The Lowdown: How do you turn introspection into propulsive pop? How can deep reflection push a person into new patterns? These questions weave the eclectic tapestry of Show Me How You Disappear, the third album from IAN SWEET, the now-solo indie-rock project from singer-songwriter Jilian Medford. The collection sparked during the time Medford, 27, spent in an outpatient therapy program for anxiety just before the pandemic, and the songs’ inventive, textured pop marks her best release to date.
The Good: The album opens with a momentary squall, the first track, “My Favorite Cloud”, expanding into a Flaming Lips-esque garble that sounds like a sentient modem drowning, before it’s pierced by Medford’s high, filtered voice: “My psychic told me I’d die/ ’Cause I’d forget to breathe.” These psychedelic textures and noise references return across the album, even as the songs venture into modern dream-pop and electro-dance soundscapes. The album circles around dark themes and obsessive thinking, but the sounds are bright, perhaps reflective of Medford’s California roots and current LA home base — sunny days no less vulnerable to internal upheaval.
We’re experiencing a golden resurgence of femme singer-songwriters that blend sharp, confessional lyrics with idiosyncratic, powerful melody, structure, and instrumentation. At times, IAN SWEET deploys vocals as fearsomely delicate as Julien Baker or Adrianne Lenker, evokes the lyric clarity of Waxahatchee, or mines the darkness of synth-pop a la Maggie Rogers and Japanese Breakfast. In that rich field, how does an artist stand out? For one thing, IAN SWEET mixes it up — shifting tones and approaches from song to song, even as Medford layers recurring themes.
The other standout aspect here is the wealth of hooks worthy of being needlepointed or tattooed. “My body is a sword,” Medford insists/warns on “Sword”. “It gets sharper when it gets ignored.” Built around a whistling synth riff, the track is funky — and a little spooky. “Pay attention,” the bridge warns. “Pay attention,” the inflection shifting with each repetition. On “Drink the Lake”, the chorus builds a chant like a mantra: “I’ll start, I’ll start/ Saying your name/ Saying your name/ Backward so I’ll forget it.”
The mantra quality is no coincidence: Medford says she embraced a therapy technique that involves tapping pressure points as a kind of meditation, and many of the lyrics were drawn from daily journaling sessions. Lucky for listeners, the lyrics rise above self-help clichés, instead digging into the particular dimensions of Medford’s psyche. Buoyed by atmospheric swells, elemental images of water, earth, and especially air cycle through these songs, returning to the idea of learning — or re-learning — how to breathe. Medford reveals herself as a powerful writer who realizes that romances (and love songs and breakup songs, for that matter) are often projections of our own unresolved desires.
The Bad: Medford’s voice often stays within a limited range of high, femme, filtered sounds. It works well in most cases as it stands in relief to the swell and surge of the arrangements, but we already know there are more tools in her vocal arsenal, and it’d be interesting to see how she might deploy them. In the past, she’s brought out the occasional yelp, shout, or belt in a less-polished manner, but here it can feel like she’s holding back from emoting at times … and that any anger is submerged. On the next record, I would be interested in hearing her experiment with her vocals as much as she plays with instrumentation and production.
The Verdict: Medford seems to have learned that an integrated self is not necessarily composed of one cohesive story but instead of many layers, many facets and colors, glitches and flaws. And on Show Me How You Disappear, IAN SWEET reveals herself as an innovative artist unafraid to shine the light on deep, difficult complication and to create bright, interesting pop music that answers only to itself.
Essential Tracks: “Drink the Lake”, “Sword”, and “Get Better”
Pick up a copy of Show Me How You Disappear here…
Show Me How You Disappear Artwork