Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are preternaturally gifted songwriters and have been since they were in their teens. Maybe even before that; friends since they were four years old, they might have been composing complete bangers on toy xylophones in a Norwich nursery school. It wouldn’t surprise me.
But, our first evidence was 2016’s debut, I, Gemini. It is a weird and fun album and had people saying, ‘wait how old are they?’ The answer was 16 and 17. And then, with attention now on them, the two delivered I’m All Ears in 2018. Still shy of 20 years old, the band had two very good and, better, interesting, albums under their belts.
Four years have passed now. Hollingworth experienced a personal tragedy, the death of her boyfriend of a rare cancer. A U.S. tour was canceled. For people who liked the band, indeed, even actively rooted for them (raises hand), there was worry.
The new album Two Ribbons is quite a response. Let’s talk about the music first. Let’s Eat Grandma layers sounds in a way akin to early 1990’s hip hop, before sample clearing, when samples could be piled on and strung together. They are of course, making their own sounds, largely with synths, but live guitar, drums and sax as well, and putting them together in complicated and dramatic ways, usually with an eye to the dance floor. It’s as if Madonna had a love child with each of the Dust Brothers. That should be taken in the most complimentary way possible.
Most songs are not just intriguing in a specific moment, they are structurally pleasing. The two have a real knack for codas. The song ‘Falling Into Me’, one of the best of 2018, has about four endings, each better than the last. The songs swoop and soar. They take a breath and then get moving again. They are rarely, if ever, boring.
The skill is on immediate full display in the propulsive album opener, ‘Happy New Year’, and never goes hiding. ‘Insect Loop’ seems as almost two different songs intertwined to thrilling effect. ‘Strange Conversation’ and the title track close the album on a quieter note, but with still a hefty musical punch.
One could be tempted to say the Two Ribbons shows a new maturity, but the first two albums were not lacking in advanced ideas or chops. What has literally matured are the women’s voices, to the benefit of the music. The two both have pleasant sopranos, nearly indistinguishable from each other, that seamlessly weave together. Any shrillness has vanished.
The words, delivered clearly in a slight Norfolk accent, pack a wallop this time. Walton and Hollingworth have been open about the strains of their trade, the tragedy, and probably quite a bit of involuntary togetherness, on a long- time friendship. They gave a lengthy revealing interview on these subjects in The Guardian last November.
I don’t really remember an album so almost completely about the love between friends than Two Ribbons. This music we write about here, and every other genre really, has been for decades and decades overwhelmingly about romantic love, its joys and sorrows. The love between friends is intense and fraught in different, but equally powerful, ways. Walton and Hollingworth wrote the lyrics apart for the first time and they do sound like letters to each other.
‘Happy New Year’, aside from being a fantastic dance song, is a beautiful tribute to the life of a friendship. The closing title track has “I wanna find the answer but I can only be your best friend/And I hope that’s enough/But I know that’s not enough.” It took me a lot more years after the age of 22 to learn that. ‘Insect Loop’ in the middle of the album wonders, “And how did it get to the point where it is not an ordinary pain.” The songs that feel like they are addressed to Hollingworth’s specific grief (‘Watching You Go’ and ‘Strange Conversation’) could just as easily be describing a friendship on the rocks.
But the last couplet, on the last song? “We’ll haunt these Norfolk bays/Weaving like the waves.” Damn.
I have a strong opinion that the last five years or so have been dominated by women solo artists and bands driven and led by women. Big Joanie, illuminati hotties, Pip Blom, Mannequin Pussy, Little Simz, Pom Poko…I could go on and on. Let’s Eat Grandma gives me support in this conversation. I can’t wait to see where they go, but I just really hope they always remain friends.
Words by Rick Larson