[sic] Magazine

Methyl Ethel – Triage

Jake Webb is one of those musicians who will forever seem young thanks to his fairly child-like (note, not childish) brand of oddball pop. That, in the real world, he turned 30 last year is therefore a bit of a surprise and the experience seems to have taken its toll on him. A self-confessed dose of catharsis after a traumatic bout of trust issues with friends, Triage is thus an aptly named album on which Webb simply tries to move on. Understandably then it’s a couple of shades less wacky than its two predecessors, but still comfortably within the same ballpark.

Front-loading the LP with trademark catchy goodness all the same, “Ruiner” kick-starts a hot run of studiofied bedroom-pop, its synthy beats partnering Webb’s melancholy, but surprisingly strong vocal. Once more, it’s sophisticated, finely balanced stuff, and that’s in spite of a scratchy sample of a dog barking being contorted into a side-line groove! Since going electro, tUnE-yArDs is an obvious comparison at this point and full-frontal first single “Scream Whole” does little to dispel the notion. A Balearic sheen applied to its chiming keys, it’s another fun blast of stop-start rhythms and soft, 80s drum-machine patterning – nasal humming and tropical flourishes here supplying the requisite quirks.

The 80s bent continues via New Wave influences and dreamy melodies on the closing part of the opening trinity, “All The Elements”, and Webb then strangles the life out of it on the camp “Trip The Mains”, a maximal track which, mixed loud, remains on hard simmer rather than ever truly reaching the boil. And here’s where Triage falls short. From this point forward, it simply lacks the knockout punch. Time and again, Webb creates credible, inventive pop songs on the middle and closing parts of Triage, but they’re just not memorable and, for self-described “surrealist” love songs, that’s nothing less than a crime. Consistency never has been his strong suit though, but you’d have thought he’d have learned his lesson after stacking the tail-end of 2017’s Everything Is Forgotten with equally (and ironically) forgettable material.

For a man capable of writing songs full of such personality, it’s a shame these latter songs seem to be stripped of his. The good outweighed the indifferent on both Everything Is Forgotten and 2015’s peculiarly polyrhythmic Oh Inhuman Spectacle (2015), but it’s starting to feel like Webb is maybe losing the battle.

Best track: “Ruiner”

~Triage is released 15th February 2019 via 4AD.~