Long-awaited, but not what you'd expect
Lucy Harbron
10:37 21st September 2022

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Jesse Jo Stark is probably one of those faces you know but you’re not sure where from. With a bio packed full of high profile besties, public relationships and uber famous godmothers (cher… her godmother is Cher), they’re right when they stay that Jesse Jo Stark moves in ‘fabulous circles’. But all that aside, it’s too easy to brush off that the multi-hyphenate singer-designer has been working for years. Releasing songs year on year since 2017, her debut album DOOMED is long awaited, but maybe not what you expected.

It’s easiest to start with some history. Impossible to separate from the names that birthed her, Jesse Jo Stark is kind of the ultimate cool girl. Surrounded by the musical circles her parents harvested with their iconic brand Chrome Hearts, Jesse Jo is the culmination of old school rocking california and new school LA, resulting in a circle that includes both the Hadid’s and Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones. The influences surrounding her feel like undiluted strands of every genre to matter since the 60s, from the birth of punk to folk and pop. She undeniably had a leg up with the originators of so many vital parts of musical history acting as her peers and teachers, it feels like it would be hard for someone like Jesse Jo to make bad music with all the icons she’s bolstered by. 

But from the start of her career there is an undeniable talent, and a surprising singularity of vision. Launching herself in the country-twanged, americana rock track ‘Driftwood’, that voice has kept people hooked. Merging Rolling Stones rockabilly, timeless nostalgia and a kind of beatnik spontaneity, old tracks like ‘Dandelion’ and ‘Tangerine’ gained a cult following of the kind of girls that treat Patti Smith’s Just Kids as a bio and turn films into their personality (aka me.) Carving out a unique space where her music balance high quality with a rawness, Jesse Jo’s work has always felt like a passion project, delivering a dose of her true personality that can’t be communicated in her other fields of fashion design and creative directing. 

On her debut, DOOMED, there’s very little of that. Unlike the beautiful sparsity in her earlier work, Doomed is relentless. Lead by the singles ‘Modern Love’ and ‘So Bad’, featuring the Neighbourhood’s Jesse Rutherford, the direction is rockier and packed with obnoxious guitar. All muted with a gentle effect on Jesse Jo' voice, there’s a distance added between her and the listener, something so different from the raw production of favourite tracks where you can even hear the crunching of a piano pedal. But that isn’t to say it isn’t great. ‘So Bad’ toes the line between a brilliant pop song and 90s alt elements, while other tracks borrow reckless vocal styling from women like Siouxsie or a Mazzy Star moodiness. It’s a chaotically beautiful melting pot at its best moments, but at its worst its totally lost in an identity crisis.

And its when she attempts to stray too far from that nostalgic sound that it loses track of itself. Leaning more into RnB or spoken word on ‘666 in the subs’ and ‘pussycat’, it starts to feel a little cliche. Pack with depthless gothic imagery far from the Hotel Chelsea tinged, deeply specific world she previously seemed to live in, and with lyrics like “your lipstick tastes like cocaine” or "I smelled your blood and it made me blush" scattered throughout like thoughtless rhyme fillers - something about Doomed feels symptomatic of pop cultures recent pivot to the darkness. Like Megan Fox drinking Machine Gun Kelly’s blood or half the kardashians suddenly going emo and dating tattooed men, Doomed ticks all the aesthetic boxes but something feels off. Lacking that singularity of vision that drew a string between the evolving sound of her previous EPs, DOOMED's radical shift, veiled vocals and relentless sound misses a moment of quiet magic in favour of a trendy focus.

But I'll admit, I'll be listening to it, probably on repeat through the winter months. When it’s great - when the western guitars come in on ‘tornado’ and Jesse Jo’s vocals are brought to the front and centre on ‘love is a dream’, you realise that she has far more artistic credit that any namedrop packed bio or nepotism conversation could give her. She delivers coolness in a way that’s missing at the moment, like early Lana americana but more sexy than depressing. To say it how it is, Jesse Jo Stark makes hot girl music, but i wish for a moment we could’ve seen something more vulnerable amongst the vibes.

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