For the longest time, Jilian Medford’s appeal as / with Ian Sweet (first a solo project, then a band, now a solo project once again) was, to me, epitomized in “Cactus Couch,” the fifth song off 2016’s Shapeshifter. On it, watery overdriven guitars and reverb-soaked cymbals crash as Medford weaves in and out of a melody that’s at once bittersweet and intensely playful. Lyrics are either cooed out, or delivered in squeaks. It all amounts to a record that’s unlike any other. Shapeshifter is full of dissonance, but couched inside it are such fun hooks; it’s optimistic and bright, but unnerving and anxious at the same time — like a Benadryl fever dream.
Crush Crusher, Medford’s return to Ian Sweet as a solo act, smooths out a lot of tonal elements in comparison to its predecessor: the dramatic peaks and valleys remain, as does the dissonant plurality of overlaid guitars and Medford’s vocal quirks, but we arrive at them with more tenderness.
On “Bug Museum,” for example, Medford’s vocals are much more straightforward. She seems more vulnerable than before, perhaps a result of highlighting her voice unfiltered. Even so, when the chorus comes around, the connection between Shapeshifter and Crush Crusher becomes abundantly clear: as she wails about being lost in a bug museum again and wishing “I’d be a better man” or being “scared of getting bit by what bites harder than I can,” Crush Crusher’s off-kilter lyricism picks right back up where Shapeshifter left off.
Even in her evolution, Medford puts together a record that is distinctly different than Shapeshifter: the hard, grating guitars are gone, but Medford revels in adding tension by elongating bridges to the point of near-antagonism, such as on “Borrowed Body.” Bittersweetness also is doled out with a bigger ladle this time around, especially on tracks like “Question It,” and “Falling Fruit,” on the latter of which Medford goes through peaks and troughs of energy in delivery: cooing one moment, shrieking the next.
When taken whole, Crush Crusher proves to be even more dissociative in effect than its predecessor, especially when its crashing waves of bitterness are stripped of what sweetness they may have laid claim to previously. Once more a record whose blurred boundaries have a quietly disorienting effect on the listener, Crush Crusher’s impact is amplified by just how insidious its harmonic components are, and how effective they are at coaxing us into a lull of complacency before pulling the floor out from under us.
I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, but in the event that you ever do anything warranting your expulsion from your community via ice floe, Jilian Medford’s Crush Crusher is almost uniquely suited to accompany you to your doom as you float out towards the cold, and the sea.