Of all the albums I have listened to this year, I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma is the one that got my attention the fast and refused to let go. Interestingly enough, I had never heard of this band before a month ago, when I happened to catch on Metacritic that they were releasing an album soon. The band’s name caught my eye, and I found myself wanting to see who they were, expecting some sort of punk rock band. I was surprised to find an ethereal music duo who specialized in artsy arrangements while still having sort of a pop sound to them. I immediately put it down on my list of albums to potentially review in the future, and I am glad I did. This album is a further consolidation of that, showing a band starting to reach the pinnacle they are capable of, creating an album that sound immediately fetching and brilliant while also containing enough depth and surprises to reward repeat listens. Songs that were not initially my favorites have quickly hit the forefront of my mind, making me feel the passion and drive to write about them as soon as possible. I’m All Ears is an inventive listen that made me take notice during every moment, because Let’s Eat Grandma have backed in so many ideas here that one cannot help but look closely.
The first thing noticeable about this record is how it balances a synth R&B side with an industrial, electronically abrasive edge. More significantly, this is not simply between different songs, but within individual tracks, as poppy verses give way to heavy and intense choruses. The contrast is no stronger than in the second song, “Hot Pink,” which follows a dreamy guitar intro by starting with a soulful R&B arrangement. This song makes me laugh every time I listen to it, with lines like “We dive at your gaze/ ‘Cause that’s your middle name” so heavily soaked in sarcasm that I cannot help but love it. But then comes the twist for the chorus: a trap beat with steel drum breaking down into a chant of “Hot pink” and lines about wanting to have everything that sound so unbelievably aggressive (especially in comparison to the demure, but ironic lyrics and music from before) that it feels like a battle cry. I have heard this song is about the importance of the feminine in addition to the masculine, and I have to say that this song certain feeds into both and interlocks them both in brilliant ways. Another song in this vein is “Falling Into Me” contains a chorus where the singers say nothing but the staccato stating of “We got this/You, me, this/Now wherever we go is the best place/No need to be restrained/Now whatever we know we should just say.” However, this harsh sounding section is punctuated with a pretty keyboard which is surprisingly beautiful.
However, it is worth mentioning that there is also a more danceable, poppy side to the record that comes across in several songs as well. “It’s Not Just Me” is perhaps the most prominent example of this, being so bubblegum as to come close to being obnoxious. But even with my tastes being more inclined towards moody, dramatic, or dark music, I could not deny that the song grew on me a lot after repeat listens, which is not to say I did not like it at first. It also carries some serious lyrics about recognizing that the pain felt in life and by circumstances are felt by those close to us or close to them as well. I got a strong vibe of this song being about a family member, though it applies even more universally than that. It is a great example of how this album is deep, intelligent pop music. Sure, there are a lot of progressive and art moments in pretty much every song, but there is a lot here that is recognizable as not straying too far from a radio-friendly sound. Sure, I do not expect “Hot Pink” to show up on my local FM radio station (or a Sirius/XM pop station, for that matter), but this is no musique concrete either. Each song here has beats and melodies that can appeal on a broad scale, I believe.
Personally though, my favorite song on the record is “Snakes and Ladders,” though I did not like it this much at first. The ideas here are a bit wild, but not necessarily played with the dynamism of previous songs. In a way, this song transitions into the (comparatively) more mellow second half that follows “Missed Call (1).” Where it succeeds, though, is in being a slowburn track that breaks the main error slowburn tracks tend to commit: simply linger. “Snakes and Ladders” might be almost six minutes (the longest track on the album to this point, though it gets easily surpassed later), but it definitely does not just linger. Not even two minutes into the song and we get a sudden rap section from the singer that could have been a disaster, but is played down and only lasts a few lines. However, what sends this song into the stratosphere is the epic two and half minute catharsis that comes at the end. Several of the best lines I have heard this year are on this section, and the best part of it is that the delivery of them has this overwhelming force to them that complements the lush lyricism at work here. “Give me something real, something evergreen, something unmundane” with “Where is our power, power, power” hanging in the background afterwards is a moment in a song that will be on my mind for a long time.
Unfortunately, the album fails to keep up this pace on the entire second half, even if the songwriting is still mostly good here and the interlude in “Cat’s Pajamas” is pretty fun. I also feel that the toned-down, sad but beautiful “Ava” is a truly breathtaking moment, and one that really started to bring me to tears with its sentiment of wanting to be there. Further, “I Will Be Waiting” is not necessarily bad, even if basically seeming like a less pop-oriented “It’s Not Just Me” and a less dynamic “Falling Into Me.” It is okay, and starts the second half on a high note. However, these tracks are barely half of the story of the album’s second half, as the nine minute “Cool & Collected” and the eleven minute “Donnie Darko” end up being virtually all of the album’s length after “Missed Call (1).” While neither track is necessarily bad, it felt like “Cool & Collected” was way too long, which made “Donnie Darko” also feel too long due to their relatively close placement. In fact, I felt dragged along a bit by this point, but listening to “Donnie Darko” isolated showed me just how dynamic, filled with amazing melodic ideas, and just generally well-constructed it is. The track is nearly perfect, but it took this sort of experience to realize it. In fact, I remember thinking how cheesy the often-repeated lines “I saw you in the yellow pages/I just looked at it to pass” looked at the time I first listened to the album, only to nearly bring strong emotions later as they finally sunk in my heart more when I experienced this song for what it does by itself. “Cool & Collected” does little to nothing to have this same effect, being the one and only time on the whole record where Let’s Eat Grandma seem to fail at reaching anything profound by having their abrasive and ethereal sides meet, making the song as a whole fail to be effective. As a result, “Cool & Collected” proves to be the album’s only major misstep for me, but it is enough to consider the album as just barely missing true greatness in my eyes.
I will say that repeat listens do amazing things with this album, for better and for worse. For certain, do not listen to this album only once and assume you have gained complete understanding of it, because it is a densely packed experience. I have listened to it through several times, including listening to it while writing this to make sure I had my thoughts in order about everything, and still wonder if my opinion will not change down the road. The surprises lost their power after the first listen, but the tracks they were on hold me in their grip through their solid songwriting regardless. Even with two albums this year being 10’s in my book (perhaps appropriately, none of the album’s from this year I have not reviewed are one’s I would consider 10/10 albums, even if some come really close), I could see this album possibly being my favorite later if it sinks in even more when I listen to it later (and that is definitely happening). However, for right now, I’m All Ears is an amazing, beautiful album that really stands out as a unique musical experience, but not a transcendent one from start to finish. Still, this album makes me certain that I will pay attention to any time that Let’s Eat Grandma releases music in the future, and not just for their name.