Not that 2016 was a bad year for music in general (Danny Brown, Michael Kiwanuka and Glass Animals all made notable contributions) but amongst that newish gas there really wasn’t much that could be described as genuinely off-the-wall, the underlying truth being that it was a 12 months in which outfits generally went heard or went home.
Let’s Eat Grandma’s I, Gemini wound up on more end of year lists you guess than its two members – Norfolk teenagers Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth – would have hoped for, a minefield of contrasts pulling equally from a Wuthering Kate Bush and Water Me-era FKA Twigs whilst inhaling deeply from the musk of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The Screamager thing really works for a bit, however it’s a special kind of audience that doesn’t mind constantly expecting the unexpected, and for album two it felt like some kind of compromise was going to be inevitable. I’m All Ears’ lead-off single Hot Pink gave just that impression; produced by Charlie XCX collaborator Sophie and The Horrors Faris Badwan, its subject matter may have rotated around some of the distorted power-broking of male-female relationships, but the slick programming and unmistakably R&B tint was as pop as the pair had been since I, Gemini’s Eat Shiitake Mushrooms.
With the relative metropolitan surroundings of Manchester as their recording base, it might have been easy to assume that this marked a definitive change of mood – a suspicion confirmed in part by the glossy It’s Not Just Me and Falling Into Me’s confident openness, whilst Snakes & Ladders throttles up the sense of drama and theatrics, but all within these new boundaries the duo seem to have re-drawn for themselves.
And then something happens: from almost nowhere the near ten minutes of Cool & Collected begins a journey it was hard to imagine them even considering a couple of years ago, a dusty travelogue as epically full of highs and lows as Angel Olsen’s epic meisterwork Sister.
This revival of the new profits most from dropping any pretences; for songwriters who were once regarded largely as making novelty music for over-excitable Graduations, it’s a mature and spirited comeback to those who would still put them in that box. Neither is it a fluke – even more expansive, closer Donnie Darko gestates around a brittle but danceable piano lilt that speaks to arch-Mancunians New Order’s period at eighties synth-pop’s vanguard, before breaking down into little poetry and a twinkling, exhausted end.
For a duo barely old enough to vote, these two breakdowns into mood and instinct are comings of age, turns which their 2016 selves probably never saw coming. They nudge the dial for I’m All Ears from hippie continuum to openhearted notes to thrill seekers, leaving the past behind like it was a million years ago.
Which, being 2016, it was.