Jessica Lea Mayfield: Make My Head Sing – A word to the wise: do not fuck with Jessica Lea Mayfield. The musical disciple of Dan Aurebach (The Black Keys), Mayfield’s new album Make My Head Sing doesn’t rely on the bluegrass convention of her youth. Instead, these 10 hard-rocking tracks are guaranteed to intimidate and occasionally terrify the shit out of the listener and make him/her question every ounce of toughness that they ever mistakenly thought they had. Make My Head Sing is gritty and grungy in the tradition of early-’90s alt-rock, but much of it is even more melodic and even more grating than the filthiest Cobain riffs or Staley vocals. It’s everything that the Rock scene has been missing for roughly the last 20 years. It’s a goddamn rock revival masterpiece.
From the get-go, it seems that Mayfield is far less concerned with inviting the listener into a comfortable space than she is with freaking them out with head-pounding distortion. ‘Oblivious’ kicks off the album with an arsenal of unexpected reverb that cuts through the fuzz like a chainsaw slicing through your mother’s glass menageries. It’s slow and drudging and psychedelic and weird, and it sets the perfect tone for the perfect rock album. Mayfield’s vocals are soft and sweet, and they’re the perfect complement to this plodding exercise in three-chord perfection. But just as intense as the song begins and builds, it fades away as if it never really happened.
From there, Make My Head Sing goes full frontal raw. There’s the stalkerish ‘I Wanna Love You’, a dreamy, hard-riffin’ ballad replete with batshit crazy lyrics like, “I’m insane, and I want to love you. You’re gonna find the same”. This is immediately followed by the heart-achingly gorgeous ‘Standing In The Sun’, a love song built on a surprisingly soft guitar progression about a lovelorn woman left alone to ponder her fate after being left by an unknown lover.
After that, comes ‘Pure Stuff’, which is a pretty badass title and an even more badass song. Per usual, it relies heavily on Mayfield DSrocking a basic riff with a shitload of distortion and a rhythm section that is barely more than capable. ‘Pure Stuff’ is everything you want to hear when you go to the bar alone on a Tuesday night. She’s tapping into that preternatural unification of collective isolation that we’ve all felt at some time or another and that we all strangely long for even in our happiest moments. There’s something about the addictive quality of lovesickness that is extremely comforting despite its horrible nature… and Jessica seems to get that, or at least bask in her ability to purvey it to anyone willing to listen.
Okay, so ‘Pure Stuff’ is over and we think we know what to expect from the rest of the album, but then we get blasted in the nether regions by a curveball. ‘Do I Have The Time’ is pure new wave nostalgia. It’s the Cure song that Robert Smith never wrote. Gliding minor guitar chords and a super bummer bassline carry Mayfield’s journal-laid-bare as she sings about mortality and love. Based on the title, I’d be shocked if she didn’t write the entire song on a piece of toilet paper whilst hailing a cab in her parents’ driveway. There’s a quiet desperation to the tune that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever endured a crisis of sorts… which is to say, everyone.
I must admit, I’m not exactly sure what else to say about this record; it’s truly perfect. Imagine if Francis Bean Cobain had grown up to be more like her father and less like her attention-whoring mother and you might have an inkling of the sounds being projected on Make My Head Sing. There are strong Pixies and Replacements influences here in both the songwriting and the production, which is never a bad thing. But Mayfield also transcends her predecessors in that she seems to refuse the prototypical vulnerable stance and rather adopts an attack mode that constantly keeps you on edge. The guitars are ripe and the music is loud. Jessica Lea Mayfield stands above Karen O as the most badass woman in rock and roll and based on the aggressive nature of this album, it doesn’t seem like she’ll be passing the torch anytime soon…10/10