One of the reasons why I got into music criticism was to discover and herald to the world up and coming artists. Thus, writing less than positive reviews of new artists’ self-released work causes me a small amount of pain. Someone took great time and expense to write, arrange, record, and press an album, and I don’t want to downplay their hard work by speaking ill of them in public. However, once in a while the dirty task of shrugging off a self-released album must be done.
And so it came to pass that Jezzy & the Belles‘ debut album, Compasses & Maps, came into my possession. I volunteered to review it on the strength of a few YouTube clips that established Jessica Eisenberg’s strong musical and lyrical abilities, and had looked forward to hearing a rising star for the first time. Sadly, the balance of the album’s nine tracks left a bland impression.
I listened to Compasses & Maps all the way through three times, and each time the album eluded me. The opening song, “By Proxy,” bristles with a tough swagger, but the later songs seem to have been bled of this appealing attitude. If you like the swaying melody of “By Proxy,” the other eight songs sound quite a bit like it.
Part of the blame for Compasses and Maps‘ ephemeral qualities can be chalked up to the production. Producers Ilia Bis and Charles Newman gave the album a minimal sound, ostensibly to focus on Eisenberg’s vocals and lyrics. However, their light touch glides past “minimal” and falls straight into unforgiving. Eisenberg sings in a nasally high register that should suggest vulnerability but instead has a harsh tone that wears on the listener after repeat listens. Likewise, her lyrics occasionally pushed metaphors and symbols to a breaking point, and suggested a passing familiarity with Creative Writing 101.
While the production and arrangements are relegated to the background, one can hear some promise in Eisenberg’s musicality. She plays guitar with great confidence, and her violin charts give the songs a winsome feel. I’d love to hear her focus the production and arrangements on her guitar playing as she does on her vocals.
Jessica Eisenberg might have it in her to release a strong album that brings her songwriting and instrumental chops to light. She might have some additional great songs to compliment the ear-catching opener. However, I am sad to report that Compasses & Maps is not that album.
Compasses & Maps was released digitally on June 26 and is available to purchase from Bandcamp.