Review of Synthia Album by The Jezabels

The rise of The Jezabels has been stop-start. After a trilogy of self-released introductory EPs, the Sydney four piece's debut album, Prisoner, finally arrived in 2011 as a dark storm of tortured guitar pop self-dubbed, rather painfully, 'intensindie' - though the band have since, probably wisely, distanced themselves from this description. Follow up The Brink was met with a more muted reception, and dismissed in many quarters as evidence that the band had fallen prey to second album syndrome; perhaps explaining their self-conscious attempts at experimentation this time around. Yes, the pun which lends Synthia its name is indicative of that well-worn change of direction for guitar bands with something to prove - often recognizable from the disconcertingly vague noises that come out of studios about 'incorporating electronic elements' and 'experimenting with synths'. The title's their mission statement: on this, their third album, The Jezabels have Gone Electronic. Or, at least, that's what we're supposed to think. It soon becomes clear, though, that Synthia - despite sharing its name with the world's first lab-created species - is more business as usual for these gloomy rockers than it is a pioneering work of art rock futurism.

The Jezabels Synthia Album

The first seconds of the opener 'Stand And Deliver' make the supposed change of direction quite clear, before the bubbling electronic arpeggios give way to a martial drum beat in a synthesis which brings to mind Zach Condon's Magnetic Fields-influenced flirtations with electronica. And, from then on, the stage is set. The arrangements here are dressed in shimmering keyboards and crackling electronic beats, but by the time the pace has picked up and Hayley Mary's piercing, soaring vocals have crescendoed to the edge of hysteria, as on 'My Love Is My Disease', it's apparent that the band are pressing on with the dynamic formula which has made them stars and ARIA award winners in their homeland. And more power to them, because while Synthia may not be as experimental as its titling would have us believe, it still offers moments of the hair-prickling melodrama for which the band are acclaimed.

The juxtaposition between the dark pop songwriting sensibilities and electronic production accessorising - not unwelcome, not particularly valuable either - is nowhere more apparent than on lead single 'Come Alive'. Beginning with a synth bass part which abruptly stops before reappearing beneath the grungy guitars on which the song is built, you're left with an impression of disparate elements being placed next to and on top of one another, rather than a seamless stylistic blend. Many of the songs here follow this blueprint: a conspicuously electronic opening which soon sinks back into a conventional rock song, punctuated by the odd awkward relapse. Not to say that this has a detrimental effect on the band's ability to hit the dramatic heights which are their speciality - there are sweeping choruses and giddy climaxes aplenty here. For the most part, Synthia leaves you with the feeling that, for now at least, the band are still better when they're doing what they do best than on their tentative, if admirable, forays into new(ish) territory.

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