Teeth & Tongue – Grids
On her two previous albums, Melbourne-based New Zealander Jess Cornelius has proven an elusive artist, covering a lot of ground not through eclecticism or trickery, but through curiosity and exploration. On her third album, Grids, she takes this exploration further, making her best album yet in the process.
As good as it is, though, Grids only just hangs together. Cornelius, the prime mover behind the Teeth & Tongue moniker, has herself admitted that the album should be approached more as a collection of songs and ideas than a unified body of work, but that would underestimate her own powerful presence.
There are three primary modes, with a degree of bleed between them, to the point that some songs suddenly switch from one to another: one mode comprises sample-heavy, synthetic torch songs, backed by choirs of staccato Corneliuses. This is the newest and most surprising aspect of the album, and it first appears with theatrical, lascivious opener ‘Good Man’. The songs in this mode are immediately the most striking, with Cornelius sounding energised by the possibilities of unfamiliar sounds, her dramatic voice exploring the open spaces that surround her.
The second mode comprises Cornelius with piano or guitar, operating with minimal accompaniment. Where the sampler-heavy songs conjure a sense of liberated grandeur, the searching, restless ‘Boredom’ and Laura Jean duet ‘Newborn’ show Cornelius in a state of agitation, hemmed in by her surrounds.
The final mode is a more conventional, slightly understated band format, which oddly feels like almost the most low-key of the lot. This is perhaps because Cornelius finally has someone to hide behind: her fellow players. When the band does show up, guitarist Marc Regueiro-Mckelvey is typically excellent, offering stinging, dissonant leads and suave, layered chords alike. His playing is a highlight on the likes of ‘Family Home’ and ‘The Party Is You’ – which first appeared, strangely, on 2011’s Tambourine. It is, however, when Cornelius exposes her raw nerves that Grids is at its best.