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Jenn Steeves Successfully Captures Modern Indie On Her Debut Solo EP

8.0

album Reviews May 26, 04:56pm

‘Sidelines’ shows some serious songwriting pedigree

Jenn Steeves makes music out of Goa. Her debut EP ‘Sidelines’ is a presentation of the indie-folk music that has almost become the de-facto flagbearer for singer-songwriters over the last few years, which by itself shows how interesting the world of popular music is right now. On one side you have hip-hop and hyperpop, two genres that we love because they’re explosive, aggressive and often borderline unhinged (in the best way; thank you 100 gecs). We associate these with what metal and rap-rock was about twenty years ago; music to let yourself go to, and that sentiment has only become stronger as more artists taken more risks with the sounds therein. On the other side, you have the aforementioned indie-folk revival through people like Phoebe Bridgers or Lana del Rey or Bon Iver (hell, even Taylor Swift did her bit on her last couple albums), and it’s emphatically the other side of the pop coin as it were. It’s quiet, vulnerable and emotionally resonant; Jenn does these ideas justice.

This EP is quite well produced. Jenn has gone for the piano/synth-backed approach to the genre on the five songs here, and it’s done tastefully. The mixes are full while being minimal, and have the comforting warmth all of us enjoy so much. There’s enough vocal layering to justify listening to this stuff on good headphones, and there’s a hell of a lot of, well, synths! Everything from videogame-inspired tones to more ambient textures show up here, and the rest of the instrumentation duly makes way by being as understated as possible. To wit, you will find drum sounds on here that take cues from old drum machines and not much else. Still, one gets the feeling that it’s quite deliberate, because the songs are focused purely on songwriting and vocals (sometimes called song-listening). And that’s what counts.

 

 

We begin proceedings with ‘Dream’, which is easily the biggest gut-punch of the EP. This song is probably the best representation of what Jenn is trying to do here; it has a phenomenal hook, the synths are melancholic without sounding lifeless, and the songwriting is top-shelf. This sound was called ‘beige pop’ back in the late 2000s by journalists who were tired of the Mumford-ation of the genre, but this injects so much emotion into a four-minute ballad that you will completely forget about comparisons. ‘The Circle’ uses electric piano and a guitar to build its atmosphere, and while you would expect a despondent and bleak vibe, what you get is more uplifiting; sing-alongs and all. This continues into ‘All That I Wanted’, possibly a more diluted version of the song that preceded it. It has a great verse though. ‘Highway 97’ is the most overtly pop song of the bunch, and that actually works out in its favour. It leans into its classic rock ballad influence without looking around nervously, and it ends up exuding some much-needed confidence. We end proceedings with the EP’s single ‘Undertow’, which is perhaps the most indie song of the five; it’s film, it’s acoustic, it’s jangly, and it’s immensely relatable.

‘Sidelines’ has its priorities in place. It doesn’t set out to redefine a genre that countless other artists have tried and failed to. It doesn’t have any pretense. In fact, Jenn Steeves does the only sensible thing one would do with a musical movement so honest, stripped-down and direct, and that is to be honest, stripped-down and direct. These songs would not have worked without that approach. Thankfully, they do. That’s something to appreciate, is it not?

 

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