I’m All Ears, the second album from British duo Let’s Eat Grandma, is an entertaining and engaging synthpop record. Teenagers Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth have a few years of experience now and are ready to expand their sound. I’m All Ears stretches pretty far beyond standard synthpop sounds at times, which makes for some nice eclecticism. Well, it’s nice until the group decides to stretch things out with nine- and 11-minute tracks near the end of the album.
But until that point I’m All Ears is a lot of fun. First single “Hot Pink” opens with vocals and quiet synth chords as the narrator gives a rude potential suitor the brush off. The song then shifts into a mix of spare, industrial sounds before launching into the chorus, singing “Hot pink!” while thumping bass mixes in with the industrial percussion. As the song goes back to the verse, the warm synths return although the lyrics stay just as annoyed. When the chorus returns so does the thumping bass, giving the track a hard edge. But then in the final minute or so, chirping, high-pitched synths come in, providing a singsongy background while the vocals continue to repeat “Hot pink!” It’s an interesting song that mixes abrasiveness with just enough melodic content to work as a single without being traditionally catchy.
The album’s other singles, “It’s Not Just Me” and “Falling Into Me” are a bit more typical synthpop. The former has a true chorus, complete with a catchy vocal melody assisted by a perky synth hook. The verses are backed with snaps, handclaps, and a quiet, stripped-down version of the synth hook. It even has a bridge where the song’s forward motion stops for a sparsely accompanied vocal verse. “Falling Into Me” has a heavier feel, with buzzing synth bass and active drums. The song also includes interesting acoustic guitar and piano parts that flit in and out between the synth-oriented sections of the track. This arrangement gives the song enough interesting parts that it doesn’t feel overly long at just under six minutes, especially because the song hits a bridge about four minutes in and never fully returns to the earlier sections.
“Snakes and Ladders” also comes close to the six-minute mark, but its approach is completely different. It’s a slow, moody song that has an aura of gloom hanging over it, with minor key guitar strumming to melancholy piano notes to its long, oppressive synth chords on both the high and low end. A constant 6/8 drumbeat keeps the song from completely wallowing and gives it a sense of momentum. As the song winds its way into the final two minutes, the guitars return with distortion, and the piano notes become full chords. There are even clanging tubular bells and a suddenly very active bass part. None of these are unique methods for bringing intensity to a song, but in this instance, it all comes together very well.
The last two full pop songs on the album are the sparkling “I Will Be Waiting” and the spare “Ava”. “I Will Be Waiting” is a great, traditional indie synthpop song with multiple warm piano and synth parts and even a vibraphone break. It’s a mid-tempo song that builds and builds in intensity in the same way the Postal Service or Stars would, hitting a second chorus that’s the real hook only in track’s final 45 seconds. “Ava” is a wistful piano ballad with maybe the prettiest melody on the album, and it nicely breaks up I’m All Ears‘ two super-size songs near the end of the record.
Walton and Hollingworth save some of their most interesting experiments for their brief interludes. “The Cat’s Pyjamas” sounds like a circus calliope and features a purring cat, which is cute. “Missed Call (1)” is a pizzicato string piece that sounds a lot like a ringtone that comes standard with the phone. And the album opens with “Whitewater”, a great instrumental cello and synth piece that could’ve come right out of a John Carpenter movie. Or more likely, it was inspired by the John Carpenter-inspired synth music of S U R V I V E, who score the Stranger Things TV series. Either way, it’s an interesting way to open the album, maybe even bait and switch considering everything that comes after it.
And that brings us to the nine-minute “Cool and Collected” and the 11-minute “Donnie Darko”. “Cool and Collected” begins with a simple, spare guitar figure that serves as the song’s main riff, which goes into lyrics about being insecure around a crush. The song warms up a bit with some additional guitar strumming after the first two minutes but quickly retreats into the chilly main riff. The second time the song brings the warmth, it adds bass, additional vocals, and a piano figure and pushes into brighter territory. But just as the listener thinks it’s going to open up, the song backs off again. Eventually, it does open up, but into a guitar solo-centered jam instead of a real climax. And then it takes another 45 seconds to peter out. “Cool and Collected” ends up being about five minutes of a good song scattered into nine minutes of a song that’s merely okay.
“Donnie Darko” suffers from some of the same problems. It sits on its introduction for nearly two minutes before the vocals start. It uses a maybe too-simple synth figure for its main riff. Its instrumental passages between vocals go on for longer than my interest lasted. And that’s a shame because there are interesting things going on during the song’s instrumental passages, just not quite enough of them. At least “Donnie Darko” does a better job of the build and release thing than “Cool and Collected”. But it also doesn’t feel like it needs to be as long as it is.
If Walton and Hollingworth hadn’t been so keen to stretch that pair of tracks past their limit, I’m All Ears would be a fully rewarding listen. As it is it has a lot of really interesting songs and a few great ones. That makes it worth listening to, but I feel like those two long songs merit an additional warning. And they aren’t even bad tracks; they just don’t feel like what I signed up for as a listener. Even after getting to know the songs on the record and hearing how they mostly fit together stylistically, the two still sound like major outliers that don’t quite work with the rest of the record; even more so than the short experimental tracks. So, by all means, give I’m All Ears a chance to win you over, just be forewarned.