Sydney D.I.Y. quartet the Jezabels may have described their sound as "intensindie" in a joking fashion, but it's hard to think of a more appropriate word to summarize their debut album, Prisoner. Produced by Lachlan Mitchell, its 14 tracks are swamped with layer upon layer of pounding organs, reverb-laden guitar hooks, and clattering rhythms, which when combined with frontwoman Hayley Mary's octave-gliding tones, can occasionally leave you reaching for the aspirin. Taken in small doses, there's much to admire here, from the gothic opening title track, which daringly interrupts its cinematic post-rock sound with a surprising bubbling synth breakdown, to the claustrophobic Wall of Sound that is "Nobody Nowhere," to the galloping the National-esque alt-rock of "Trycolour." Mary's voice is a stunning instrument all in itself, effortlessly swooping from somber PJ Harvey-style femme fatale to magical Kate Bush-influenced banshee, often in the space between a verse and a chorus. But the album is more captivating when it provides some much needed light to counterbalance its overpowering shade. "Endless Summer" is a sun-drenched slice of Yeah Yeah Yeahs-ish new wave pop proving that the band isn't averse to the odd infectious radio-friendly melody, "Peace of Mind" is a gorgeous slice of ethereal dream pop underpinned by subtle piano chords and lush ambient electronica, while "Horsehead" opens with some warm synths and Fleetwood Mac-inspired soft rock harmonies before it eventually succumbs to a more thunderous explosion of noise. It's unfortunate that the Jezabels seem hesitant to pursue this more stripped-back and chilled-out direction, as while their prevalent more-is-more approach certainly reaps several grandiose rewards, it also creates a slight air of pomposity suggesting the bandmembers take themselves a little too seriously. Nevertheless, Prisoner remains one of the boldest statements of intent from a fledgling act this year, and while it will be a little too intense for some, it pinpoints the Jezabels as one of the bands to watch from Australia's thriving indie rock scene.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien