For Jess Ribeiro, making a record is a lot like falling in love: it’s a dive into the unknown with the belief that the currents will carry you. With album number three, LOVE HATE, the analogy could not be more apt. LOVE HATE traverses the whole landscape of love: its amorous peaks, its rough rivers, and its dark valleys. Ribeiro discovered that love has seven stages in Arabic literature: attraction, infatuation, love, reverence, worship, obsession, death.
Producer, Ben Edwards (Aldous Harding, Julia Jacklin, Marlon Williams) immediately took to the idea. “I wanted to do something lighter,” Ribeiro recalls. “We had ten days to make it so I wanted to enjoy it.” What resulted was an entirely new sound. Ribeiro kissed the swampy humidity of the Australian Music Prize-nominated Kill It Yourself goodbye, and embraced the precise down-strokes and valve-amp hum of a very New York lineage, from the Velvets through to Blondie and Talking Heads. It’s capped by those lethally cool vocals for which she is revered.
Fellow Melburnian multi-instrumentalists Jade McInally (Jade Imagine) and Dave Mudie (Courtney Barnett) were recruited for their nimble pop chops, and recording commenced in February 2017 at Edwards’ studio in Lyttelton, on the South Island of New Zealand. Having lost two previous studios in Christchurch to earthquakes, Edwards had embedded his new sonic temple in the side of a mountain. Moving to a rhythm of its own was Lyttelton itself. The industrial seaport never sleeps, and the sirens, which sound every few hours, can be heard on one of the album’s three vignettes, ‘You Should Be with Me’. These vignettes are the ghosts of unrequited love, rising out of silence, then fading away. ‘Spirit in White’ could be a lost Lou Reed jam, while ‘Cry Baby’ is a shard of what was a raw, 15-minute post-breakup rant.
Opening track ‘Stranger’ echoes the infatuation of our poet Stendhal, and his recognition that “This is a love that lives only through the imagination”; Ribeiro’s voice a narcotic purr. In ‘Love is the Score of Nothing’, she nails Nico at her most unphased: “Sometimes you have to admit romantic defeat / I’m back on the street, alone this time / Singing ‘Love is the score of nothing’”. But LOVE HATE is also powered by pure energy at times. Take ‘Chair Stare’ – a primal scream from the libido, written on a creative jaunt in Berlin. ‘Goodbye Heart’, recorded in the same city with Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke, pays homage to Suicide’s Alan Vega, who had died the day before. It may have the balm of Ribeiro’s soporific delivery, but it feels as though there’s something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. The centrepiece is ‘Young Love’, about a teenage couple Ribeiro saw entwined at a tram stop. With the guitar swapped out for a Nord, and the beats spare and dramatic, it’s the synth soundtrack for a doomed romance movie.
Love of a more transcendent kind is honoured in ‘Lay Down with the Earth’. It’s inspired by Tamil refugees who shared their stories of connecting with the earth when sick or grieving, and features a guest spot from theremin player Miles Brown. LOVE HATE closes with the woozy, Dusty Springfield-like ‘Crawling Back to You’, in which a former lover is protected and avenged: “Don’t worry … she’ll be crawling back to you when I’m through with her”. It’s a reminder that even when we’ve experienced a love bigger than ourselves, the kind that puts everything into perspective, it’s easy to slip back into the minutiae and the drama. Perhaps it’s the sign that we’re ready to begin the cycle again.