For the most part, laptop pop has been a warm and fuzzy affair. The genre’s brightest stars, the Postal Service, have practically written the book on this style. Ben Gibbard’s vocals are an instrument unto themselves, rising and falling as Jimmy Tamborello’s carefully programmed blips and beeps create a mood that is danceable despite the emotional gravity of the lyrics. This year, we’ve begun to see artists emerging who are turning the genre on its head, creating a mournful emotional landscape that includes emotionally potent lyrics that cannot be ignored. Earlier this year, a mysterious artist called Skeletons released Life and the Afterbirth, a stunning, and profoundly dark laptop pop record that included songs like “My Friend Drowned in His Own Vomit” and “A Male Angel Means Business” wrapped in lyrics such as “Let’s fight about / Who gets to die first” or “I’d like to fuck away your memory / Fuck away the mistakes I’ve made”. And now as we enter the chill of winter, we get an album titled Puking and Crying by an artist who goes by no other name but S.
S, the alias of former Carissa’s Wierd singer Jenn Ghetto, on her sophomore release has created an album that falls somewhere between Xiu Xiu and the Postal Service, with a twist of pre-sellout Liz Phair. Combining the fractured songwriting of Jamie Stewart, with electronic washes and simple, yet energized, guitar riffs, Ghetto has created an original, intriguing statement with Puking and Crying.
For anyone who’s gone through a bad breakup, Puking and Crying will serve as your soundtrack. Ghetto explores the primal depths of the end of relationships with an unblinking eye. Emotionally raw, there is no denying that the listener is being let into Ghetto’s world of pain, but instead of the nauseating platitudes of artists like Dashboard Confessional, Ghetto opens her wounds for us to see in an experience that is as real as it rewarding.
The album opens with the simple minute-and-a-half “5 Dollars”. Accompanied by no more than a guitar, Ghetto sings plainly of unrequited love, coming to grips with the fact that “It’s guaranteed that I will always like you more”. “You Decide Pt. 2” finds Ghetto simply stating, “It feels like it’s all gone” over a simple guitar line and waves of synth. Building and cascading beautifully, alternating between live propulsive drumming and a wall of strummed guitar, the lyrics are hard to interpret; however, when Ghetto’s voice rises above the music and the words “way to hurt me” come to the surface, the result is spine-tingling.
The key to Ghetto’s success, in addition to the sincerity of her lyrics, is a deft combination of organic and electronic instrumentation. However, on tracks where she leans more toward the former, her rudimentary guitar playing skills are sometimes woefully apparent. Conversely, Ghetto has a keen ear for electronic programming and the instrumental track “Metal Beds” is a standout.
Puking and Crying is a wonderful effort that thrives because of its unrepentant honesty. Those looking for something grittier than the Postal Service and Styrofoam will find much to admire in S. Ghetto has created an album that isn’t always an easy listen, but rewards its audience with a unique and rich emotional experience.