June 1, 2016

LP: Spartan Jet-Plex - Touch Tone

Spartan Jet-Plex offers a haunting map of melancholy on Touch Tone.

Melancholy comes when you least expect it – it’s a pang in the back of your head at the supermarket, it comes on long walks, while taking exams. It’s a feeling that's often difficult to describe because it usually comes from somewhere internally intimate. Its source is terra incognita – unknown earth – from a wealth of lived experiences that can be too painful to bother to explain to other people. Touch Tone is Spartan Jet-Plex’s third album and it's melancholic as ever. The album doesn’t travel past Nancy Kell’s vocals and guitars. The stories that the album presents document all of the sorts of sadness that come from loss. They blend together, each track moving through the ups and downs of navigating emptiness while simultaneously striving to find some sort of joy.

In "Wild", Kell brings in drums but they’re mostly background noise. Kell is searching for something in this track but her words are barely recognizable. This is a standard for the entirety of the album and when her words are more audible, they’re manipulated with distortion and feedback. After listening to this record a couple of times, one of the things I love most is the macabre quality of Kell’s vocals. In the tradition of murder ballads of the 30s and 40s, there is a kind of darkness that permeates the entire album. Kell reminds me of early Marissa Nadler – both artists work towards a kind of tragic interpretation of an age-old genre of music, while reinventing it with experimental flourishes of guitar distortion and, in Kell’s case, audio sampling. Touch Tone is a mantra and in its most opaque moments, it's almost hypnotic. In a few moments, Kell attempts to experiment with samples of audio and the clips she chooses can appear out of place. That said, where the album is strongest is in its self-awareness as a DIY record. It might take on too much at times but that's what makes the album special. Touch Tone doesn’t need to be polished; instead, it needs to tell a story. It is in these tiny moments of ambience and distortion that the story, almost counter intuitive as it becomes clear. In the end it's all about the intimacy of loss. Kell presents a road map into unknown earth and it's lovely the whole way through.


Listen to Spartan Jet-Plex on bandcamp.

S. Frances Kemp is a D.C based freelance music writer. She's a student at Oberlin College where she studies Comparative Literature and French. You can follow her on twitter @sophiefkemp.