Photo: Eddie Whelan / Courtesy of Rough Trade Records

Jockstrap Stretch Pop Music and the Notation of Genre

Jockstrap’s experimental pop makes their debut I Love You Jennifer a bewildering yet rewarding listen. Jockstrap play with expectations to keep listeners on their toes.

I Love You Jennifer B
Rough Trade
9 September 2022

Judging by the album cover, you might think Jockstrap are a punk band. On the London-based duo’s second album, I Love You Jennifer B, their name, as if it weren’t already edgy, looks like it was simply scribbled with a permanent marker. But their music doesn’t necessarily subscribe to punk, at least in the traditional sense of the word. No, they are punk in that they challenge expectations and the notation of genre. Their dynamics are widely varied: one second, a guitar quietly strums; in another second, a digital beat tramples through, leaving trails of raygun sounds. It’s these jarring surprises that make their release both stirring and fascinating. While Jockstrap’s music may not sound remotely like punk, they evoke a similar brash carefree attitude that rubs against the grain like any old punk song. 

Jockstrap are a collaboration between singer Georgia Ellery and producer Taylor Skye, and I Love You Jennifer B was three years in the making. The album marks the pair’s first studio full-length for themselves and for Rough Trade Records. They have released four EPs since the project’s inception in 2018. Through their EPs, Jockstrap have established themselves as a difficult act to label. In another world, Ellery and Skye’s styles couldn’t be more different.

Ellery has a modest and flowery voice, and her phrases float delicately–her delivery is never biting or rageful, even when the lyrics warrant it. Skye’s production, on the other hand, is manic. Any song could suddenly transform into a seedy dance number, completely erasing the memory of what came before it. At times, the duo channel folk and jazz; at other times, they lean on heavy dance-driven beats like techno. If Ellery is stability, Skye is chaos, and these dueling opposites make I Love You Jennifer B a challenging yet rewarding album to spend time with. 

Like most things, once you sit with it, let it grow on you–come to predict what was once unpredictable–the capricious flow and the whipping transitions begin to feel normal. For example, the album opener “Neon” is more than one thing at once and quickly lets you know what to expect from Jockstrap. A guitar strums plaintively while Ellery’s voice achingly sings. The spareness feels lonesome and folk-like, but not before Ellery changes pace with “is it working?” Organ chords, eerie background vocals, and digital beat with clipping levels interrupt the vibe, completely changing the song’s mood into something more sinister. Just as you begin to acclimate to the change, it reverts to the beginning–the bareness of guitar and voice. This push and pull of expectations is a theme that carries on throughout I Love You Jennifer B, and for some, being yanked around like this might not feel so great. 

Jockstrap arouse similarities with a few different pop artists. The fusion of experimentalism and dance music feels inspired by Björk‘s Debut, which featured a jazz standard accompanied by a harp. Harp appears more than once on I Love You Jennifer B, widening the instrumental palette that gives the album its depth and color. There are also clear dance-inspired tracks and techno songs like “Greatest Hits”, which makes references to pop icon Madonna. Her Ray of Light album comes to mind in the same train of thought. Ellery and Skye bring another pop star to mind on its title track with its grandiose orchestration and melodramatic verses; the song sounds like something Kate Bush could have conceived. 

“Concrete Over Water” is a peculiar and beautiful track. The organ chords and bluesy flourishes, punctuated by swing era string arrangements, connote something like a gospel tune–even the title sounds like a derivative of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Jockstrap are at their best here as Ellery’s tender voice is supported by the warm, preacher-backing-like flares of the organ, and the tempo feels loose–rubato if it weren’t for Ellery’s measured phrases. A quarter way through the song, a sample is triggered: shouts of “hey, hey” permeate the background while the bongos begin to patter. The solemn mood that once was is upended by a bulging bass and marching snares, making way for an aggressive electronica section whose groove hits perfectly. “Concrete Over Water” not only shines as the sparkling standout on Jennifer B but demonstrates Jockstrap’s ability to alternate between two extremes while threading the sections together with loose but creative stitching.

While the former may be enchanting, “Angst” might be their most creative song. Ellery’s voice is cautious in the beginning. It would have stayed that way, safe for the entire track, but Skye has other plans–even Ellery’s vocals aren’t safe from Skye’s mad-scientist production. Her voice is manipulated and sped up, resembling the titular emotion of an anxious mind. It seems like they went for a metaphor, and as blatant or somewhat predictable as it seems, it’s another example of how Skye’s production is full of sharp, crude corners. While the abrupt turns may exhaust some listeners, those more open to more hyper-production styles will appreciate all the wonderful surprises like these. 

I Love You Jennifer B is provocative and ambitious, testing attention while operating on a fine line between listenability and overkill. The way Jockstrap play with expectations keeps listeners on their toes. Trying to anticipate the next 180-degree turn or sudden zero to a hundred acceleration makes them an exciting listen. Admittedly, the album didn’t initially spark my curiosity. I found the transitions to be choppy and too drastic of a shift. But after spending time with the release, getting used to the sharp turns and harsh sounds, it’s become one of the most intriguing releases this year so far. The first couple of times through might feel a little rocky, but with time, I Love You Jennifer B can grow on you and reward you with intelligent, experimental pop if you give it a chance. 

RATING 9 / 10