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Jess Chalker - Hemispheres

11 November 2021

I was about to use the word pop to describe this glorious debut album from Jess Chalker but even now in these post-genre and non-tribal times, the word seems to be a bit loaded, coming with a lot of baggage. Maybe it is that endless conveyer belt of identi-pop, the zeitgeist worshipping, dance routine driven, focus group guided, that unadventurous tsunami of pop-pap of recent decades which has tarnished the genre’s name.

But Jess Chalker is the pop you need and Hemispheres is unashamedly pop. Poised pop. Pop with something to say. Rich and textured pop. Pop that out-cools indie, out grooves rock and outsmarts the genre. Intelligent pop. Pop with a Phd!

There is something of the 80’s hanging over the album, a nostalgic shimmer under a modern sheen, a mix of digital beats and analogue instrumentation, slinky synths and sassy vocals. But that is as you might expect from the frontwoman of New Wavers We Are The Brave.

Kicking off with the sublime “Stupid Trick”, a strange hybrid between Bat For Lashes’ silky, synthy world and Fleetwood Mac’s euphoric pop grace, a soulful, late-night vocal haze and infectious beat, it is a song that writes very large sonic checks. Thankfully, the album beyond it not only cashes them but pays fantastic creative dividends too.

“Dance In The Rain” is an addictive yet slightly subversive take on dance, liquid rhythms dancing over cool beats, spacious and deftly constructed and “Don’t Fight” feels like the perfect chart candidate but the more you listen to it the more you wonder if it is too sophisticated considering the expectations of today’s mainstream pop-picker.

My favourite track has to be “West Hollywood – 1”, subtle, narrative-driven, relatable and slightly dark around the edges, again it is what happens when poise is applied to pop, and “Cynical” is wonderfully anthemic yet understated if you can have such a thing, but you know what I mean.

Remember when pop wasn’t a dirty word? Remember when its grooves were filled with integrity and its beats were built on authenticity? Remember when it was equal to any rock or indie creation? Remember when it swaggered, when it soared, when it was creative and adventurous, when it had places to be and things to say? Thankfully Jess Chalker does.