Let's Eat Grandma Keep Twinning on 'Two Ribbons'

BY Noah CiubotaruPublished Apr 19, 2022

There are these riveting videos online of Let's Eat Grandma performing "Donnie Darko," a meandering, 11-minute epic from their 2018 sophomore effort, I'm All Ears. The British alt-pop duo, composed of Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, could be seen either atop a festival stage or within a dimmed venue, swapping out instruments as they build the track from the ground (literally — they start it lying on their backs). As it passes through its hypnotic phases, "Donnie Darko" expands like a pool of tipped syrup: heaviness drowsily accumulates, and then it's cut by a propulsive synth loop. At that turning point, Hollingworth and Walton's routine had been to step away from their respective instruments and approach one another to engage in a secret handshake — the elaborate kind that, in elementary school, would never remain much of a secret, because it served to display the depth of a friendship to onlookers. The faint clapping would become part of the song's percussion, until Walton returned to her keyboard and began giddily plinking away with only her index fingers, evoking a sugar rush that escalated to the point of knocking the two musicians down. They'd tumble to the floor in unison, as if tethered by an invisible string.

Hollingworth and Walton, who both hail from Norwich, have known each other since the age of four and started making music together at 13. They presented their first album — 2016's I, Gemini — as an almost-indistinguishable pair, often dressed in matching outfits and both with light-brown locks that waved down to their waists. When their performances would lean into elements of pantomime, they'd fold like rag dolls, curtains of hair concealing their individual identities until an animating force would suddenly sweep through to prop them up. That air of enchantment permeates Gemini, which twists and confounds like a Carrollian tale. On that record, Let's Eat Grandma curiously layered sounds until the most bewildering figments of their imaginations loomed around them, plotting out a landscape that threatened to consume the protagonists traversing it. However, as everything took on new shapes and seemed to slip into the surreal, Hollingworth and Walton could still turn to one another and see their own images reflected back at them.
For their third and latest album, Two Ribbons, Let's Eat Grandma resurfaced with "Hall of Mirrors," which sets about retrieving that stable reflection. In the opening lines, Walton yearns for someone to "Take me all around the world and then show me a picture of myself." The world this song inhabits is notably not a fabled one: the imagery conveys a night out on the town and oscillates between the cinematic glamour of seizing that opportunity and the cold reality of a club bathroom with secrets etched across the walls. Here — as well as throughout the rest of Two Ribbons — Let's Eat Grandma showcase their exceptional ability to match lyrical theme to sonic effect. The verses are dizzying when Walton is sinking into loneliness amid synths that flash and swirl like carousel lights; but then, they're stripped away for a sobering moment, signaling a shift. Once the chorus erupts, sparkles ripple, and Walton locks into a revelatory experience of queer desire: "The moment in time when our shadows collided and I told the truth." The line that follows decays into a cloud of distortion — the path towards that euphoric clarity left to be retread. 

Two Ribbons, as a whole, is structured to replicate those same psychic movements. "Half Light," a thirty-second ambient interlude, cleanly splits the album in two, bridging pristine synth-pop and pastoral reverie. On previous projects, Let's Eat Grandma were more inclined to swerve through their stylistic range and test out different tricks, which resulted in track sequencing that was thrilling yet somewhat scattered. By working within the constraints of a more limited palette this time around, they sharply communicate the full scope of their artistic intent. Each song is trimmed down to its essential components, produced with a resplendently full sound (for which some credit goes to co-producer David Wrench, as well), and placed legibly within a narrative arc.

The songs that precede the shimmering portal of "Half Light" barrel ahead like life coming at you fast, underscoring the volatility buried beneath their exuberant tone. "Levitation" derives its stunning power from that tension. At one moment, Hollingworth is picking pieces of herself off the floor, and the next, she's soaring to the peaks of a staggering melody. The chorus consists of her grasping for some grounding force, and as her calls seem to float farther and farther away, Walton's responses confirm the presence of a steady counterweight. "Happy New Year" tells a similar story, namely the central one that spans the album: two friends finding their ways back to one another after a period adrift. The perspective is flipped, though. Walton sings to Hollingworth from across a divide (this is the first album for which they wrote separately, as they were living in different cities) and traces the history that indelibly binds them. With each piece of childhood minutiae recollected, the divide shrinks, and there's a triumphant sense of something starting anew. Sparks flying. 

The album begins with that ecstatic note of reunion, but as it moves along its sonic trajectory, it becomes calm and contemplative. "Half Light" trickles into "Sunday," which cracks open to reveal a vista of mountain trails and endless sky. In this setting, conjured by sun-bleached guitar and twinkling glockenspiel, Hollingworth finds more space to process the loss of her boyfriend, who, in March 2019, passed away from bone cancer at the age of 22. That Two Ribbons arrives at a point of facing emotional turmoil with such lucidity in its second act registers as the hard-earned outcome of Hollingworth and Walton rediscovering their shared force throughout the first. On the blistering "Insect Loop," Hollingworth's pained cries about feeling detached from Walton are drowned in the mix, until an idyllic scene flickers into view; she imagines them both back where they grew up, watching tides wash away their drawings in the sand. "And nothing could seem more important as that / We'll haunt these Norfolk bays / Weaving like the waves."

Latest Coverage