Two years ago when IAN SWEET released their debut album, Shapeshifter, the band effortlessly moved from edgy rockers to lo-fi, blissful tunes. It showcased the then trio’s refusal to be pigeonholed into a specific genre, yet at the same time it revealed their continuing journey to define themselves. Since its release, IAN SWEET has once again become the solo project of Jilian Medford with Simon Hanes (bass) and Max Almario (drums) joining her. With Medford now driving the bus, the band’s sound has become more focused, and their messages clearer. The result is Crush Crusher, which is a raw, gritty, and honest album.

Whereas Shapeshifter ranged far and wide, Medford, Hanes, and Almario delve headfirst into a single aesthetic – that of the urgent indie rock and dream-rock of the ’90s. Angular and reverb-drenched guitars and probing rhythms fill each of the record’s ten songs, and the approach perfectly sets the frame for Medford’s easy, breathy vocals and analytical songwriting. On “Crush Crusher”, a driving, shoegaze guitar and a pulsating electric drum beats create a solemn but delirious atmosphere. Medford’s vocals, meanwhile, are distant, as she reflects on a moment of stimulation and destruction. “Lighting things on fire / Making me sing”, she repeats with eerie effect.

On the grizzled “Question It”, Medford’s dreamy vocals tackle the anxieties that inhibit one’s mind. At the heart of her tale, though, is to be honest with oneself. As she sings with added urgency, “We don’t have to say, ‘That’s okay, that’s okay'”. A similar message is shared on the clever “Bug Museum”, which is told from the perspective of a male protagonist. As the methodical, head-nodding melody slowly intensifies, the hero reveals his fears.

“I’m lost in the bug museum again.
Wish I’d be a better man,
But I’m too scared of getting bit
By what bites harder than I can.”

It is these moments of vulnerability and uncertainty where IAN SWEET shines. The blissfully euphoric rush of “Hiding” is at the heart of Crush Crusher. Medford’s vocals swirl within the wall of shoegaze and hammering percussion, and she shares a time when she allowed another to define her. Conversely on the dark, Alanis Morissette-esque,  “Falling Fruit”, she tries to reclaim who she is. As she sings with a slightly menacing tone:

“I knew it was doomed.
Fell for you like a fruit.
Try peeling an orange for somebody else
Without taking a slice for yourself.
I don’t know if this is what I want.”

The lushly harsh tones of “Ugly/Bored” recalls an experience that leaves Medford feeling used and constantly questioning her worth. It’s a powerful number about how a single moment can redefine one’s value. The sonic whiplash that is “Spit” further explores how the words, actions, and expectations of of others can imprison or even permanently scar another. Medford’s voice quietly rages, particularly as she says:

“You can tell me I am ’bout to go into the sky and die
I was mainly here, and I’m mainly there
I’m putting myself in danger again.”

Through these struggles and ordeals, Medford tries to find refuge, as she describes on the wavering and gnarly rocker, “Holographic Jesus”. Lush, shoegazey textures and harrowing rhythms intensify into a wall of bone-rattling noise with the front woman’s voice reaching near siren levels. Through the sound, Medford hits hard with her words, particularly when dealing with life and death:

“How could you tell that I’m a bedroom girl?
Is it my holographic Jesus
Or the Grim Reaper on my necklace?”

Despite the challenges and questions, Medford doesn’t offer any answers, but none are needed. Instead, the power of the record and her songwriting resides in a single word – honesty. Specifically, the mere effort to share one’s stories and emotions is the first step to finding the answers. Not only do others need to hear what you have to say, you also need to hear your own words. In the case of Crush Crusher, Medford and IAN SWEET have memorably done it in an intimate yet gritty fashion.

Crush Crusher is out now on Hardly Art Records. It can be picked up on BandcampiTunes, or the label’s online store and streamed on the usual sites. IAN SWEET are currently on tour across the US with dates set up until Thanksgiving. They’ll be in Europe in the new year. Tour dates and information are available here.

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