Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Profile Review - Jess Ribeiro

Published in the November / December issue of Rhythms.

Jess Ribeiro
Kill It Yourself
Barely Dressed Records / Remote Control

For those familiar with Jess Ribeiro & The Bone Collectors’ award-winning 2012 debut, My Little River, the first thing you’ll notice about Ribeiro’s new release, under her own name, is it’s different. Where the former was inflected with country tone, acoustic and quite introspective, Kill It Yourself is deep and dark, it hums with an eerie melancholy, it’s stripped back and laid bare, both in a sonic and lyrical sense; it’s a move away, a vastly different album on its surface. Although, going deeper I suspect, perhaps not as much as you’d think.

“Yes [it is a natural progression], because I’ll always be me,” says Ribeiro with an almost self-conscious laugh. “And the way that I write songs… working with new people was a great learning experience of finding new techniques and ways to make music, but essentially it was still me, and I still had a vision that I wanted to create.”

After parting ways with long term creative partner Rob Law and moving from the steamy tropical gloom of Darwin to grey-stone, black-clad Melbourne, Ribeiro found herself in an old warehouse with a clutch of bare-boned songs, no band, and one Mick Harvey – the ‘new person’ of which she speaks. The album took shape in this environment, Harvey encouraging new ways of looking at things, of executing things, and the results speak for themselves – this is the mark of a musician coming in from the cold, and emerging into some sort of newfound freedom. And not just in a musical sense.

“Yeah,” she muses. “It was kind of the end of a period of time, the closing of a chapter of my life, so it has personal elements to it. I don’t know how I feel about that now, is that a real selfish thing to do? You make some music, like, who wants to hear that? Everyone goes through certain phases in life, and I don’t know, I call it my Saturn Return phase, it’s just all about a period of time. I guess it was really important because I got a bit down for a little while, I’d only ever really collaborated very closely with one person, Rob, for many years.

“So Mick was the crossing of the threshold, you can work with anyone, it doesn’t matter. He would say, ‘We make music, we’re not brain surgeons, don’t be so precious about this’, and I think that really changed my attitude a lot. It was important because now I feel freer.”

What I find about Kill It Yourself is it gives off an incredible sense of space – tracks like ‘Run Rabbit Run’, ‘Born To Ride’ and the title track in particular, these songs shimmer like heat haze off bitumen, bitumen running straight and true for miles through hot desert. Ribeiro’s voice, on the former, is slow and languid, sometimes deep, other times wafting on some unseen breeze, always in the right place – sad, and yet always moving forward.

The instrumentation is sparse. Ribeiro plays electric guitar this time around. Jade McCinally adds bass, the percussion is minimal, the strings are minimal, the keys are minimal. It’s such a spacious album, but it’s not left wanting, because what is there is so truly vital to the songs themselves.

“I’ve always been into having space, and working with Mick, he’s all about having space as well,” she says. “I’ve always been pedantic about having space in songs, and not just filling things up.” She goes on to say that without her band, she was really worried about how it would all come together, but as Harvey said to her, the lack of a band would allow them to create space, and it has.

Lyrically, Ribeiro covers a lot of ground, but always keeps to what she knows, which adds realism. Tales of drug deals gone wrong, pent up repression, her transgender aunt, killing chickens in a dream but being unable to do it in real life – all these stories are told honestly, candidly, poetically, entwined through the dark sonic haze with elegant (and sometimes shambolic-yet-steady) grace. Ribeiro, as an interviewee, is a little reticent, a little guarded, but her music speaks volumes as Kill It Yourself illustrates. There’s little doubt this record will make as many waves as her debut, if not more.

Samuel J. Fell