Being a music critic can be tough. Sometimes you have to listen to some awful music and endure a lot of overblown hype. When a hyped band with actual potential comes along, you almost wish they would be bad, in order to act as a hype dissenter. In a refreshing exception to the rule, Jamaican Queens haven’t been nearly as hyped as they should be. Their fantastic debut, Wormfood, is an early contender for one of the best debuts of the year, provided the hype machine doesn’t plow over it en route to championing a lesser band with better PR.
I initially approached Wormfood with skepticism because many songs on it concern arguably the most boring topic on the planet: the thoughts and feelings of white 20-something-year-old men. Jamaican Queens, then, get bonus points for reeling you in by releasing a song about muggings — ”Kids Get Away” — as a first single. A continuing fixation with death — the album’s called Wormfood for a reason — also keeps things from straying too far into the realm of white hipster problems and imbues the album with a nice universality.
Of course, musically, it is also very good. Any album that starts out with a song highly reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire” in a way that should be annoying but is instead infectious is well worth more than a cursory listen or two. That Wormfood doesn’t stick to one derivative style throughout is also welcome, as the album turns to borrow from Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin and southern rap, melding it with a bit of Flying Lotus’ wonky genre mash-ups, and coming up with something not totally new but consistently entertaining. Additionally, the languid electro of “Black Madonna” and the sing-songy lightness of “Sharkteeth” prove Jamaican Queens are just as good at doing more ballady fare as they are at druggy weird-outs, such as the Zappa-and-maybe-LSD-influenced vocal freakfest that is the opening of “Annie”.
Wormfood’s strongest cut, however, may be its closing track, “Caitlin”. What at first seems like a song about the waywardness of a twentysomething male becomes a death fantasy that still has a grounding in reality (see lead singer Ryan Spencer requesting of his girlfriend, “and will you take care of my debt / Cuz when it rains it floods”). The double-meaning of the chorus — ”I’m sorry about the earth around you caving in” — is also a nice touch; although it’s literal for Spencer, the loved ones he’s left behind to clean up his mess have more than just mourning to contend with.
Wormfood isn’t necessarily a zeitgeist release, but it does offer a bit more depth than the oft-ridiculed generation is usually given credit for. The album’s title track, a 30-second interlude sung by artist Abby Fiscus (who is also the album’s cover model), suggests that a good cure for blues and inertia is reminding yourself that “we’re all wormfood”. We are of little worth in the end, best to make some kind of dent in an effort to be something other than a delicacy for worms. Jamaican Queens are trying, and hopefully they’ll continue to do so.