Feeding People, ‘Island Universe’ (Innovative Leisure)
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Label: Innovative Leisure
Jessie Jones’ voice is even more compelling than her backstory. According to legend, the 20-year-old founder and frontwoman for Orange County upstarts Feeding People grew up a devout, superchurch-attending evangelical Christian who, upon discovering the Beatles as a teen, embraced a new religion entirely. (“I started to explore my interpretation of the world,” she told OC Weekly last fall, “and it was through music that I found a way to connect.”) And while said exploration took her on a ride through her home county’s rich countercultural history, the psychedelic hybrid she’s assembled here packs a much heftier wallop, thanks mostly to her remarkable, Karen O-caliber howl.
That’s what sets Feeding People and Island Universe, their sophomore full-length, apart from the crowd. Until recently, they’d been aligned with Fullerton, California-based Burger Records, a vinyl and cassette (and soon to be digital) outpost that, in addition to pressing FP’s 2011 debut LP, has served as a vital part of the American garage-rock community by offering releases from wide-ranging, guitar-wielding, hook-friendly maniacs like Harlem, Black Lips, Nobunny, King Tuff, Ty Segall and, last but not least, the Tough Shits. But Jones and Co. have taken up with yet more interesting company as of late, hunkering down in the studio with producers Hanni El Khatib and Jonny Bell (also of Long Beach psych crew Crystal Stilts), and even accepting an invitation to perform at Los Angeles’ much-ballyhooed, weekly experimental hip-hop and electronic-music party, Low End Theory. Thom Yorke joined them onstage.
There are no prominent electronics on Island Universe, but it’s a relatively ambitious, often distortion-less statement that feels more spacious than the band’s (former) basement-rock peers. Jones’ vocals are simply too powerful to be obscured by any fuzz; what you get instead is a gripping amalgamation of Devendra Banhart-informed folk (see the saucy title track), Flaming Lips-style screwball alt-pop (“Insane,” “Closer”), noise-laden psych freakouts (“Inside Voices,” “Uranium Sea”), and thunderous, old-fashioned displays of rock’n’roll brawn like “Big Mother” or “Red Queen.”
While there’s an astonishing amount of variety throughout, no weak link can be found, nor any evidence of faulty sequencing. Jones’ gilded vocals glue everything together beautifully, whether she’s softly cooing or unleashing the acrobatics that make highlight “Other Side” so potent: “When you come up, there’s no coming down / High as above, low as the ground / I’ve got friends on the other side / The devil is waiting to go for a ride.” Right on, right on.