Jess Ribeiro’s first two albums, My Little River (2012) and Kill It Yourself (2016) received a great deal of critical warmth but not a lot of exposure. The first was a dark acoustic folk-blues record with a minimum of instrumentation. Kill It Yourself, produced by former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, added strings and percussion, but still, the songs stood almost alone.
That they did is a testament to Ribeiro’s talent. But whereas those records are sepia-toned, Love Hate is an all-electric technicolour lunge towards pop, backed by guitarist Jade McInally and drummer Dave Mudie (the latter a member of Courtney Barnett’s touring band). The results are vibrant and clearly aimed at introducing the Melbourne singer-songwriter to a bigger audience.
The bright spangles of guitar that burst through the dream-pop haze of opener (and single) Stranger, indicates Ribeiro is out to get your attention. Produced by New Zealander Ben Edwards, who has worked with Aldous Harding, Marlon Williams and Julia Jacklin, Love Hate is arguably more immediately arresting than any of their records.
But that shouldn’t make it any less satisfying in the long haul. There are still hidden depths; the surface is just a little shinier. Following the natural arc of a love affair from chance meeting to attraction to dissolution, and bound together by three short “Vignette” interludes, its 12 tracks are as liable to sneak up on you as they are to jump out.
Love Is The Score Of Nothing, the second single, is the latter. Leaping straight in at the chorus, it uses the zero-sum metaphor of tennis to make the point that nothing leaves you as empty as the end of an affair. “We did it over and over again,” Ribeiro boasts, as the song skips into double time, but romantic defeat leaves her back on the street, alone.
The song crashes to a messy conclusion, before gliding into the slower Painkiller, which posits her lover as a “sweet, bitter remedy” – suggesting the relationship is back on, if only for self-medicating hookups. It highlights the care that has been taken with this album’s sequencing, which ensures a flow of mood, purpose and pace, as well as storytelling.
Earlier in the album, Chair Stare is straight-up lust – but Ribeiro directs it at an inanimate object, a “hard wood, four-legged animal”, with early shrieks of guitar feedback from McInally and alternating stabs and waves of synthesiser. It’s all over in a couple of minutes: Love Hate never wastes your time.
Young Love deploys a slinky trip-hop groove and a more heavily processed electronic sound. It’s one of the sleepers on the album, and proves Ribeiro’s versatility. It’s easy to see her pursuing this angle further in the future. The menacing Goodbye Heart is closer to the sound of Kill It Yourself, with strings building the tension.
Lay Down With The Earth features a shiver of violin and Ribeiro’s plangent vocals over a relaxed motorik groove by Mudie, before the album concludes with Crawling Back To You – which Ribeiro promises she will, right after she’s given herself a stern talking-to for her transgressions. This is an album that deserves to be held up to the light.
First published in The Guardian, 5 April 2019