The Jezabels – She’s So Hard

Given the heightened sense of drama and artistry that surrounds such a collection of songs, She’s So Hard seems almost a strangely flippant title. If nothing else, The Jezabels are serious and sincere about their brand of ambitious, ornamental indie pop. But as hard as she is to find an overall meaning for, this second offering from the much-hyped Sydney quartet is a highly accomplished effort.

Stylistically things pick up exactly where first EP The Man Is Dead left off, with opening track Hurt Me bringing wave upon wave of sweeping piano and drums, occasionally relenting to expose the spacey guitar lines that lurk behind. But a closer look reveals subtle evolution in the band’s songwriting, as snippets of a less conventional phrasing or time signature are handled with aplomb. Nothing seems out of place, and the band’s core of grandiose piano and driving, textured drumming remains simple but very effective as the music around them grows in complexity.

This is particularly noteworthy throughout the epic Into The Ink, which is also where the inevitable Arcade Fire influence is most keenly felt. A single metronomic piano chord, over shuffling drums and wailing vocals, strongly recalls Wake Up by everyone’s favourite Canadian pseudo-orchestra. Yet the song blooms beyond this comparison, unfurling itself in sections after an inauspicious beginning, and finally into one more rousing chorus that reflects the Jezabels’ own sound more than any other.

She’s So Hard is a bit of a lyrical conundrum, hitting great heights with evocative, sometimes visceral imagery and even Biblical wordplay. Yet although sung with the confidence they deserve, specked here and there are clumsy lines such as ‘I was the one who showed you the sky/But you brought it down, down to my thighs’.

Nonetheless, at its heart, this EP is all about the voice of Hayley Mary. Beautiful and operatic, it strikes a perfect line between strength and the wrought vulnerability her oft-confessional lyrics demand. Mary soars and dips with the dynamics of each song, demanding we pay attention to every emotion-charged word, showcasing the extraordinary depth and latent menace of a slightly more feminine version of Evanescence’s Amy Lee.

Closing track The Man Is Dead represents the band’s most tangible departure in sound – it is impossibly dramatic, but more Evanescence (or even Queen) than Arcade Fire. Guitars here are laced with distortion, drums crashing and explosive, piling one crescendo on top of another as we are left with a musical and lyrical portrait of violence. This does not necessarily point to The Jezabels’ future direction, but it is most welcome.

In truth, She’s So Hard is a very similar EP to the band’s first output, and will see them continue to build hype without radically altering their course to a successful future. Lyrics are smarter, ambitions are loftier and the music is grander than ever, but The Jezabels have remained true to the sound they carved out in early demos and through The Man Is Dead.