Alice Jemima has a presence that cannot be ignored. This singer-songwriter from Devon turned heads with her mesmerising reworking of Blackstreet’s No Diggity. Atmospheric, seductive, dangerous: her cover version was all those things, and her self-titled debut album sees her galvanise on her xx-like guitar music with spectacular disposition.
Jemima’s music is haunting. Profoundly so. “You’ve got that look on your face / You’ve got that look I can’t take / You’ve got that look that says I’ve done wrong,” whispers Jemima, backed by single bass guitar notes that punctuate each line forebodingly, on No More. It’s like she’s speaking directly into your soul, while you stand alone in a cold, colourless kitchen that has seen better days.
The minimalist guitar riffs and sparing percussion of the xx can be felt throughout Jemima’s melancholy murals, which have been produced by Roy Kerr (London Grammar, Foxes) and tend towards the sour side of relationships (Falling Out of Love). She feels like a kindred spirit of Cathy Davey, Daughter singer Elena Tonra, and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons: female singers who can make the hairs on your skin stand up on end with their blend of vulnerability and menace.
Jemima’s knack for bittersweet sorrow (Toxic) will get under your skin fast, and it will likely be the strongest feeling that keeps willing you to listen again. But there are other shades to her sound. Softly spoken depictions of lovers in the dark, blinking in and out of sight as she commands over a pulsing rhythm (When You Dance). The chilled seductiveness of So and its swelling heartbeat. And the strange, otherworldliness of Liquorice, with its layers of rhythmic electronic plods, hand drum slams, and vocal intrigue that reward your ears, and stretches the mind, every time.
Jemima’s debut is gripping headphones music that fills your yearning for minimalist tones and melancholy. There’s a chance that The xx fans who haven’t been taken with the trio’s latest effort will listen to Jemima and think, “now, this is what I wanted”. Sure, she’s the latest in a long line of musician’s who have been heavily influenced by that formula, but through nimble, inventive instrumentation, an aura of heady self-reliance (Electric) and self-belief (Take Me Back), which make a for positive arc, and a haunting presence that rivals Lana Del Rey, Jemima’s 2017 debut outclasses The xx. She’s been pipped for success already, and this fiercely haunting debut is proof we’ll be hearing much more of Alice Jemima.