Give Up On Your Health
Reviewed by: Max Miller
I’m not sure how it goes down in other countries, but in America we tend to have a limited attention span for artists from outside the States. Sure, there’s Canada, but they have the advantage of being able to tour here without crossing an ocean. Unlike past eras, when music broke global barriers and seemed to come from anywhere and everywhere, many North American listeners now seem to focus on artists from familiar shores. It seems paradoxical in the internet age, but perhaps it’s a conscious pushback. Whatever the case, I imagine many American music fans still associate Australia with either reigning legends like AC/DC or Men At Work, or hip upstarts like Tame Impala or Courtney Barnett. As such, it’s unlikely they’ve noticed the rise of Melbourne’s Jess Cornelius, the songwriter who has operated under the name Teeth & Tongue since 2008, and who toured with Barnett earlier this year.
Give Up On Your Health, the fourth album from Cornelius’s project, stands poised to grab the attention of American listeners and Australian fans alike with its crisply-produced retro synthpop. The opening title track jumps immediately into full gear with driving drums and pulsing synth befitting a Gary Numan classic. A major component of Teeth & Tongue’s nostalgic sound is Cornelius’s use of a live backing band. While songs like “Dianne,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Cupcake Revisited” are incontrovertibly synth-driven, bassist Damian Sullivan and drummer James Harvey give the music some analog warmness. Guitarist Marc Regueiro-McKelvie keeps it in the pocket, mostly adding in subtle melodic touches that help guide the songs’ dynamics.
Cornelius sings with a shadowy whisper to her voice which she opens up, like a window after the passing of winter, when she enters her higher range, usually during the choruses. Give Up On Your Health feels sad and meditative, especially on slower numbers like “Small Towns” where Cornelius sings, “I felt it, but how can we be so sure? / Small towns, they fuck you up even more.” That song in particular, along with some other material from the new album, was written in Iceland, where Cornelius spent three months on an artistic residency. You can sense the iciness and isolation that she has coaxed into her music.
Give Up On Your Health captures the sound of an artist haunted by the past and by regrets and by doubts. Cornelius acknowledges the influence of pop masterminds like Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder, but those artists often tried to divorce the very notion of humanity from their gleaming, danceable tunes. Teeth & Tongue have crafted an imminently organic and vulnerable record which reminds us that, while we sometimes treat each other like machines, we’re all still people in the end.