Methyl Ethel, the ambiguous musical alter-ego of frontman Jake Webb, spiralled into our awareness over the last few years with their ambient psych-pop. Having released their debut album in 2015, Methyl Ethel are one of those outfits that send reviewers reaching for their dictionaries: art pop, shoegaze, dream pop, dream-pop for insomniacs…
Now as they launch their sophomore record, Everything Is Forgotten, we need to grab the thesaurus once again.
Everything Is Forgotten sees Jake Webb take a directorial lens to Methyl Ethel, sculpting a cinematic and arcing experience unrivalled in recent times.
Still channelling the vivid, textural pop influence that has underpinned Methyl Ethel this far, Everything Is Forgotten twists into new territory with insistent beats and a neo-classical bent. Once again written and recorded by the Perth-based Webb, the album was then put into the capable hands of producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Foals).
Methyl Ethel teased the record via singles No. 28 (released last year), followed by the more recent Ubu and L’Heure des Sorcières. Although a recognisable follow on, the new material is immediately an evolution from the slow unfurling ambience of Oh Inhuman Spectacle.
As Webb himself says “I never want to repeat myself, first and foremost.”
Setting an energetic pace with the infectious No. 28, Webb’s vocals fall pleasantly over themselves across more certain riffs and percussion. It’s this certainty which feels like the true next step for Methyl Ethel.
Breaking down No.28 into an almost baroque instrumentation, this nodding to a kind of classicism lives throughout the album. Followed by the staccato Femmes Maison/One Man House, Webb melds dreaming vocals with a rococo influenced backdrop. The result touches something almost glam, finally devolving into a dramatic, distorted outro.
Also evident are the grand melodic progressions, which lend a sort of electronic pomp to Webb’s textural, ambient writing. Contrasting with the different elements at play from pop to psych and even touches of indie, it’s a subtle nod.
If Methyl Ethel’s debut had an expansive feel in the instrumentation, Everything Is Forgotten really spreads its wings across genre and beholds the impression of a genuinely experimental record.
There is somewhat of a journey to take, starting out with the insistent, synth-driven Drink Wine. Carefully building texture, there’s a tropical bend to what is almost a new wave sound.
Single release Ubu, inspired by surrealist playwright Alfred Jarre, brings a more ambient take to this dancey, beat driven style. Webb has a talent for lyrics which run continuously without ever tripping up, and perfect lines just keep letting slip.
L’Heure des Sorcières delivers a darker, looming style. Lifted by Webb’s cosmic orchestra, there are elements of Goldfrapp in the pulsating synths, industrial beats and soaring vocals. Dropping down in the pensive Act of Contrition, a strummed acoustic guitar backs Webb’s direct address. Vocals move in between a tin can, dull echo and a haunting choral.
If psychedelia offers a kind of meditation for the mind to expand upon, then Methyl Ethel have flipped that idea on its head. The expanse and sonic exploration in Everything Is Forgotten carries you with it. Hyakki Yakō has all the sass of a disco hit, but pushed through Webb’s dark kaleidoscope. Vocals sit high in the composition, distinctive like the oddest parts of Jack White.
We asked Webb if this sense of movement in the curation of Everything Is Forgetten was on purpose.
“It was intentional and the fact that it feels like that to you means that in some way I have succeeded. I’ve tried to achieve this in some way or another on previous projects. I like to score to some loose thematic arc, a dramatic structure of sorts.”
Nearing the end of the journey, Summer Moon takes you down into perhaps the darkest, most confined part of the album. Industrial snares and looming bass edge towards Nine Inch Nails territory, which is a far cry from the openers.
Interestingly, penultimate track Weeds Through The Rind slightly reinvents the wheel as a follow on. Webb’s lyrics never fail to hit home, but this one pulls on too many familiar elements from a record which progresses so beautifully elsewhere.
Fortunately Schlager finds the right note as the closing track on Everything Is Forgotten. It’s the sonic equivalent of stepping out into the morning light after an intense night – interestingly, Webb cites “midnight” as one of his inspirations. A pervasive drum beat drives spacey synths and their wide reaching melodies.
An angelic, choral ending complete with silver screen style strings sees Methyl Ethel reborn. This kind of journey through a record is a rare thing, and you can almost see the words “The End” scrolling across your mind’s eye in glorious technicolour.
Everything Is Forgotten is out this Friday.