There was an overlooked animated series called Mission Hill, created by ex-writers of The Simpsons, which aired on the WB in the late 1990s. A scene in the pilot sees the 20-something protagonist ambling down the street as the music surges, and the world beats around him—someone uses a payphone, an air conditioner falls from an apartment window, a cyclist zooms past and rings his bell. The fanclubwallet world undulates similarly. One can imagine a polychromatic, 2D version of 22-year-old Ontarian Hannah Judge—the witty mastermind behind fanclubwallet—planted into the scene, moving through the cartoonish melee of sound effects that litter her playful indie-pop songs: record scratches, indistinct chattering, dial tones, not to mention the cornucopia of ping-ponging synthesizers and pre-loved children’s keyboards that click-clack across the shape-shifting landscape.
That’s not the only connection between cartoons and fanclubwallet—a name inspired by the talisman that came with her Beano fan club membership. In addition to fronting one of the most exciting up-and-coming indie acts, Judge is an accomplished cartoonist and comic artist. She told the Line of Best Fit, “If there was something I wanted to say in a comic, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that, it would end up in a song instead.” It follows that her music has this mischievous, malleable predilection—its thumpy drum loops like the bold outside lines of a drawing and speech balloons offering hand-scrawled quips like, “I’m just kidding / No need to overreact” and, “I wonder if that song’s about me / I heard it on national TV … I see her, and she looks just like me”.
The songs on You Have Got to Be Kidding Me hum with life and animation, but Judge’s equable tenor purrs clearly through the production (thanks to producer and multi-instrumentalist Michael Watson). If she wanted, Judge could sound like emo-imbued indie acts such as Rilo Kiley and Death Cab for Cutie, but she doesn’t. The scratchy, staccato guitar patterns, clunky clavinets, and siren synths could sound like the Talking Heads (whom she covered), but they don’t. The esoteric, keyboard-led lo-fi of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, the ruminative car journeys of Modest Mouse, and that one Atlas Sound song that sounds like a ringtone (“Walkabout”)—these touchstones make themselves known but never overstay their welcome.
The album’s mood balances on a precipice between tongue-in-cheek shrugs and tearful despair, with the aforementioned kitsch knocking against plaintive major 7th intervals and affecting personal lyrics. Even the album title is pure exasperation packaged as wry stoicism. For the distilled, emblematic example of the fanclubwallet sound, see album apex “Toast”, the sonic successor to popular single “Car Crash in G Major”, which appeared on last year’s Hurt Is Boring EP and hit one million streams while Judge lay in a hospital bed. (It has since surpassed six times that.)
Judge directly addresses her chronic illness in the lyrics of “Toast”. “I’m withering like bread in the sun / It’s getting toasty up in here / Under the covers where I’ve lived for a year.” A dependable, even-paced drum patter and boxy guitar preface the album’s biggest chorus, one of the best choruses in indie-pop so far this year. “I haven’t learnt a thing all damn year / It doesn’t really matter since I disappeared.” Recording sessions often took place from Judge’s bed, transcending the bedroom-pop label if not charging it with more clout than ever before. Yet the darker, brooding moments such as “Go Out” and “That I Won’t Do” are offset by songs like “National TV” and “Gr8 Timing!”, whose resilient dance pulses and layered vocals are sure to induce smiles.
Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield coined the term “Ivy Tripp” to describe the “directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today, lacking regard for the complacent life path of our parents and grandparents”. Aimlessness and stagnation—Ivy Tripping, and its relationship to love and relationships—is undoubtedly the salient lyrical theme of 21st-century indie-pop, from Snail Mail to Phoebe Bridgers. You Have Got to Be Kidding Me subsumes that ennui and spins Judge’s own Ivy Tripp with the witty exuberance of a comic book or animated sitcom. For all the enforced bedroom confinement, Hannah Judge, more than anyone, sounds like she’s on the move.