Jordan/Martin Hell Psychosocialite
What a ride. Jordan/Martin Hell’s wide-ranging new record, Psychosocialite, comes across as both tossed-off and well thought-out, somehow embodying the immediacy of a first take/best take philosophy while also being studiously crafted. The lo-fi, bedroom-pop production belies a colorful soundscape that defies categorization. Jordan/Martin Hell either consumes tons of music or ignored it entirely while holing himself up to create this insular soundworld. Genre boundaries are decimated, vocal stylings vary wildly, songs range from deeply emotional to charming and carefree—Psychosocialite is, by far, one of the most engrossing and original records of the year. We are happy to premiere it here for you today on FTA!
Hell’s label, Insecurity Hits, elaborates on this via a press release saying: “The intention was to create a genre-full album of hybrids that also involved the emotional intimacies of Jordan/Martin’s early 20’s. At the time Jordan/Martin thought he was compiling songs in the order they came out of him but songs know more about you than you know about yourself sometimes. Now that Psychosocialite is being released, when Jordan/Martin listens to it now he hears the pain and the love and longing that was always there and maybe always will be. Plus, Jordan/Martin got to make it with like a million friends so that always a good sign. Jordan/Martin now understands that he wasn’t making music for a label or anything but just making it to survive as a Black trans schizophrenic person in a world that wants him dead.” They also add that Psychosocialite was made over the period of 2015-2020 and includes songs recorded all over the world (including but not limited to Montreal, Argentina, Berlin and New York.)
The journey begins with “2 1/2 MIN.” Angular guitar strums stab over top a mellow yet insistent synth hook. Hell’s vocals are soulful, at times hushed and distant. The track ends with some backwards guitar touches before we’re jarred out of the clouds and back to the ground with the mathy riffing of “ACTOR.” There are some Ryley Walker/’80s Trey Anastasio elements to the dexterous guitar playing. Above the fray, Hell repeats, “You are never going home,” seemingly from a far-off distance. A stringed melody (violin, perhaps?) weaves throughout, soothing some of the anxiousness of the intricate guitar lines.
The strings are present again in the next tune, this time adding pathos to the disco-stomp of “BABYGIRL.” Once again, the guitar playing is sublime—gritty and a little nervous while also supporting the melody of Hell’s vocals and the strings. The vocals come down from the sky a bit to deliver the line “I don’t love nobody.” A simple line but delivered with a complex combination of earnestness and coldness, as if he’s defiantly convincing himself.
Another left turn follows on “BLONDE AMBITION (feat. Kid Naps).” It kicks off with Kid Naps rapping over…no beat! Nothing behind them but haunting string ambience for half the track. Midway, a simple hip-hop beat kicks in and Kid Naps flows anew before their vocals get subsumed by strings and high-pitched, full-throated vocalizations.
Four songs, four completely different sounds, and we’re only a quarter of the way through. Other standout cuts include “DEMETER,” featuring elements of math rock underneath Hell’s soulful, yearning vocals, and ever-shifting rhythms; “ESTER,” with its straightforward (sort of) guitar line and vocal melody that collapse into noise at various intervals; “FUCK.ME,” an excursion into video-game music, with all the wonderful synth sounds and programmed beats that go with it—but from a distance, Hell screams, grunts, and screeches; “GOD HATE” is Lou Reedesque in its simplicity and ominousness; “PRISCILLA” demonstrates the full ability of Hell’s voice in a plaintive, psych-folk ballad.
Perhaps contributing the chaotic and far-flung nature of the record is the wide array of musicians who contributed to the record, geographical boundaries being ignored alongside genre ones. While he plays something on every song on the record, Hell also enlisted help from Sheena McGrath (drums), Carlos Hernandez (engineering; organ/piano), Renata Zeiguer, Emily Cline (violin), Keba Robinson (bass/drums), Raz Robinson (guitar/drums), Noah Demland (drums/percussion), as well as members of Drama Section on drums, guitar, vocals, bass, and sax, and members of Didi on cello and flute.
Hell says the final product is also the result of using whatever free recording and mixing programs he could find. Surprisingly, there is a consistent sonic quality to the record for the most part. It’s an interesting experiment in what a record should sound like and how it should be recorded. Many musicians during lockdown found themselves scrambling for ways to achieve consistent recordings compiled from their socially distanced bandmates, seeking the same cohesion that they’d previously achieved in person. But maybe it’s OK for the listener to hear some of the stitchwork involved in the process. And like many great records, you’ll find yourself hearing cool bits on a second and third listen that you may have missed initially.
Psychosocialite plays like being inside a restlessly and infinitely creative mind, a person getting down all their ideas as they come and honing them into individual tunes that are enigmatic, delightful, and unpredictable. It is a freewheeling collection that also boasts depth of musicality and feeling. There is, quite simply, more here than initially meets the ear. It’s an engaging and essential listen.