Detroit band Jamaican Queens call their sound "trap pop," building their indie songs around brittle electronic beats inspired by innovative Southern rap names like Three 6 Mafia and Young Jeezy. It's a strange hybrid, with layers of acoustic guitar, woozy high vocals, and sawtoothed synthesizers sitting shakily atop either scattershot drum machine rhythms, blown-out Flaming Lips-styled live drumming, or beats constructed from samples with sources ranging from ELO to D'Angelo. Their debut album Wormfood stretches the limits of their skewed pop over nine songs, growing more and more bleak as the album goes on. Starting with the one-two punch of lead singles "Water" and "Kids Get Away," the more accessible pop nugget side of Jamaican Queens is presented with almost power-point straightforwardness. Both songs are full of unexpected and catchy hooks, crowd-pleasing choruses, and colorful production, all stuffed into right around four minutes. Lead vocals by Ryan Spencer shift between breathless, obsessive darkness and flippant lightheartedness reminiscent of Brian Eno's early pop albums. The album takes a left turn around its halfway mark, dropping its hip-hop and radio pop-informed approach for a series of gorgeously sad slower tracks. "Wellfleet Outro" rides a haunted sample, with guest vocals by Abby Fiscus sifting through a ghostly chorus that feels as sad as Sparklehorse and as lost as Portishead. "Sharkteeth" is based around a more traditional guitar figure, melodically folky at first, but soon joined by distorted drums and glitchy electronics as the song builds to a frenzied conclusion. Wormfood's production threatens to obscure the songs at times, but listening closely, it's possible that this is by design. While the strengths of the songwriting are less immediate than the pristine, space-filling beats, it's the combination of strong melody fighting with an overstuffed production palette that makes Jamaican Queens a more interesting, tense listen than their more bare-bones contemporaries.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas