My first encounter with Jessica Winter’s solo work was at a day festival in London, shortly after the lifting of Covid measures, which turned out, by the way, to be somewhat plagued by organisational woes. In the rather palpable frustration that accompanied said issues, then, it was even more remarkable that her set stood out for its sharpness and intensity. Previous to that, I’d been familiar with her as one of the voices of Pregoblin, where her distinctive timbre and unique singing style are put to the service of an ingenious love for unusual harmonisations. That same love shines through in her solo output, which I have taken care to get closely acquainted with after that neon-drenched stage appearance at the end of last Summer. It was a prominent feature of her debut EP, Sad Music, which was notable for the depth of its musical textures, and it is even more so in this second EP, More Sad Music, which is set for release at the end of October – timely so, one might say, as the mood it evokes, complex as it is, is not without a subtly spooky note.
In spite of its title, More Sad Music is not simply a second chapter to its predecessor. It does, it is true, share some of its outstanding features, a red thread that connects both records as, in a way, parts of a whole, like a layering of sound levels that commands multiple listens in order to catch all the subtleties, or a blending of the industrial and the electronic sprinkled with just an accent of pop which makes the music both danceable and immersive. But it is also a creature of its own, a six-track ride that starts on a deceptively low-key note (the first few bars of opener ‘I Think You’re Going To Hurt Me (So Bad)‘ could easily be mistaken for a pop ballad which wouldn’t be out of place in the charts, before switching into something deeper and more jarring and way more complex) and then reveals itself to be cohesive, and ambitious, with sharp, provocative lyrics and a good number of earworms lurking right under the surface.
Compared to the previous EP, More Sad Music plays with more energetic material, making abundant concessions to the EDM element that is one of its many souls: find the seeds of it in the irregular bop of the rhythm section, especially its more heartbeat-like manifestations (see ‘Do You Do You,’ which closes the record on a bouncy note and which it would be a crime to not play on a sweaty dancefloor in the late hours of the night,) but also in the little strings of synth notes which disrupt the otherwise steady pace of almost all tracks in this record. A good number of the tracks invite dancing, although they are not dance, per se: it is very easy to fall deep into ‘With You Without You,’ which throws scratchy rock guitars into a sound which would be otherwise reminiscent of the type of late ‘70s or early ‘80s clubs replete with disco balls and flared trousers. It is a record that you can move to, with a certain abandon, even.
Equally, it is a record worth pausing for and listening to closely. Jessica Winter has a pretty unique voice and an equally unique way of using it, and she has grown even more confident in her vocals, which are airy and sharp at the same time, with an unexpected cutting edge that serves her very well in underlining the punchier parts in her lyrics. The lightness of her voice plays an excellent contrast to the thick industrial suggestions which emerge here and there through the record – nowhere more strongly than in ‘Like A Knife,’ which, to me, is one of the stand-out tracks in this EP. Elsewhere, distortion is king, but a subtle distortion that sneaks in almost unnoticed, adding texture to the more reflexive, almost sumptuous tracks: see ‘Avalanche,’ which keeps part of that cavalcade-like element of the faster-paced songs and compounds it with a smooth melodic line, and most notably single ‘Funeral,’ another high point in coupling distinctive tunes, atmospheric distortions, and lyrics that skirt the edge of morbid and deliver a rather powerful punch instead.
Perhaps it’s just the season, but it feels like an excellent record for late October, for the specific quality of the light mid-afternoon, hazy and foreboding like the sound of this EP can also be in places. It grows on you, too: delve into it again and again, and you will keep finding more to it than first met the eye (or rather, the ear). A very strong offering from an artist who has shown herself to be in equal measure bold and inventive, weaving a sound that is hers and hers alone.
More Sad Music is due October 29th via Roya – and is available to Pre-Order now digitally and on CD, here. Jessica Winter also has a headline show booked for November 25th at Venue MOT in London, tickets are on-sale now, book yours here.