Just for a split second, I thought I had made a mistake and was listening to the wrong album. Surely the ugly squall of loud, distorted electric guitar which cascaded through my speakers had nothing to do with Jessica Lea Mayfield, whose previous two albums were reasonably restrained yet quirky affairs. However, once the plodding riff of ‘Oblivious’ gives way to Mayfield’s shimmery drawl it becomes clear this is something of a departure.
After the initial shock of the opener, ‘I Wanna Love You’ and ‘Standing in the Sun’, put us back on slightly more familiar ground as the two pop-rock gems and Mayfield’s jangling guitar (think somewhere between the Shins and the Cure) hook you in with their hypnotic melodies. ‘Pure Stuff’ takes us back to the guitar skronk and sounds like something which would have fitted in on Nirvana’s odds and sods compilation ‘Incesticide’. ‘Unknown Big Secret’ and ‘Anything You Want’ again showcase Mayfield’s knack for a hook, while ‘No Fun’ is the exact opposite of its title.
But ultimately, as fine a piece of work as this is, it is hard to look beyond the brutal guitar work and, as a result, it detracts from what is a very fine set of songs. The finer details of Mayfield’s voice and lyrics are completely extinguished during the heavier numbers, the nuance that was so evident on her previous efforts is sorely lacking here. One can only applaud the bravery Mayfield has shown in moving away from the Dan Auerbach-inspired direction of her last brace of albums, but this feels a touch strained in places, like she wanted to shock us, surprise us and make us reappraise her abilities as an artist.
It certainly does that, but Make My Head Sing feels just too heavy-handed in places. Without question there are some interesting ideas here, and some captivating songs, but it is not fully realised. Maybe next time we will get to see the bigger picture.
Words: Andrew Gwilym