Personnel: Sam Lockwood (strings); Nik Kaloper (drums).
Audio Mixer: Peter Katis.
Recording information: Attic Studios, Sydney, Australia; Jungle Studios, Sydney, Australia; Oceanic Studios, Sydney, Australia.
Photographer: Pierre Toussaint.
The third full-length album from Australia's the Jezabels, 2016's Synthia, is a magnificently crafted synth pop outing with a strong feminist point of view. The album was born out of the group's difficult year promoting 2014's The Brink. While that album performed well, the band found the recording process labored and the subsequent tour a slog. Adding to their fatigue was keyboardist Heather Shannon's diagnosis of ovarian cancer (an ongoing concern that forced the band to cancel its tour plans in support of Synthia). Consequently, the Jezabels took a six-month break before recording Synthia, a period that found lead singer Hayley Mary exploring her more hedonistic inclinations in California and entertaining the notion of not even making another album. She also embarked on a formative road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, a voyage of self-discovery referenced explicitly on the wickedly hypnotic "Pleasure Drive," in which she coos "I got a 66 baby and I'm born to rock/I got a one-track mind just to get me off." Mary carries this earthy, empowered sexuality throughout all of Synthia, honing in on the gender politics of being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated rock world. On "Smile," she sings "I'm hardly incorruptible with things I might say yes to/Bit of banter's quite enough/Don't need to be an intellectual." Of course, she's just got one rule: "Don't tell me to smile." This sophisticated, nuanced perspective is matched by the group's move toward a more atmospheric and dramatic synth-based sound. Cuts like "A Message from My Mothers Passed," "Unnatural," and "If Ya Want Me" showcase Shannon's icy, shimmering keyboard soundscapes buoyed by the driving undercurrent of Nik Kaloper's drumming and Samuel Lockwood's kinetic guitars. With Mary's soaring vocals on top, Synthia brings to mind a tantalizing combination of The Sensual World-era Kate Bush and the Cardigans' Gran Turismo. An album of hard-won maturity and sensual elegance, Synthia can be somewhat of a slow burn. However, when the pop fire reaches its peak, as it does often on Synthia, the payoff is intense. ~ Matt Collar