Memo to people in relationships, especially those who’ve been in them for years: It is rough out there right now for singles trying to find love. Hell, it’s an ordeal just trying to find a date or hookup. People who paired off before apps facilitated 90 percent of romantic congress (a totally accurate statistic — don’t challenge me) have no idea what a nightmare it is just trying to find some play.
Never mind the difficulties that arise from technologically filtered attempts at conversing. Bots, hackers, spammers and scammers have become harder and harder to spot. You might be a few texts into a chat before you realize the other person doesn’t want you, just your Social Security number.
It’s hard for an elder millennial like me to imagine what dating is like for Zoomers who may have no experience outside of Tinder, Grindr, etc. Manriel Grant and Ezra Ouellette, the duo composing Burlington electro-R&B outfit Jewelry Company, were born on the generational cusp. Twenty-eight and 26, respectively, they’re just old enough to know there has to be a better way to find love. And they get into it in glossy detail on their exceptional debut LP, Romance Scam Online.
After forming in 2016, Jewelry Company emerged on the Queen City scene in 2020 with their EP, Cheap Drugs. It’s worth noting that Grant has a Burlington-famous aunt: City Councilor Melo Grant (P-Central District), who for nearly four decades has hosted the WRUV hip-hop radio program “Cultural Bunker.” Her nephew’s band makes precisely the type of local music you’d expect Melo to play on her show.
The titles of Jewelry Company’s releases underscore their cyber-centric POV, each alluding to spam or otherwise dubious online chicanery. But the genericness of these titles, and even the band’s name, cheekily subverts best SEO practices. They know the rules and can therefore break/have fun with them.
By email, Grant and Ouellette explained that, despite not getting smartphones until they were adults, they were very online in their formative years. They played computer games extensively, downloaded music through file-sharing platform LimeWire and got deep into gaming forums. Though they didn’t spend middle and high school with pornography machines in their pockets at all times like (we can assume) a lot of their cohort did, technology has been an omnipresent influence on their culture.
Their music reflects that. A scintillating blend of electronic subgenres, such as drum and bass, UK garage and acid house, Jewelry Company’s music pulses with now-ness. As they interrogate the world of online dating and how it bleeds into their psyches, they ensconce themselves in propulsive beats and a fleet of synths of various tones and textures. Grant and Ouellette sing with smooth detachment. They’re calm and collected in the face of so much chaos.
Appropriately titled opener “Loading” takes a minute to buffer but contains the album’s thesis: “Who I am is in my pocket / But the world’s on my screen.” They seem to say, “The internet contains multitudes, yet we’d rather use it to curate an easily marketable version of ourselves.” Culminating in boots-and-cats beats, the foreboding track previews and teases some of the subsequent 11 songs.
“Persona” sets ablaze the everyday fiction of life on social media. Grant and Ouellette take aim at filtered selfies and all manner of fakery, including the way people hype themselves. Bass and drums do the heavy compositional lifting, occasionally assisted by quick blasts of MIDI horn fanfare.
“I swear I could find your hubris with my eyes closed,” Grant sings on a verse that suggests things don’t necessarily get better in person — one of the album’s many bons mots. The pair are just as adept at wordplay as slinging vibes.
One of the most brilliant examples of their lyrical genius is on diss track “Cold,” probably the record’s best cut. (TBH, it’s hard to pick a favorite.) On a foundation of icy, Whitney Houston synth, Jewelry Company concoct one of the sickest burns I’ve heard in years.
“You’re not who I complain about,” they sing on a loop. Deceptively simple, the phrase says so much by saying so little. The things we complain about are the things that make us feel passionately. You don’t complain about someone you don’t care about, even if they actually have you “in a cold sweat” and “losing sleep.” “You’re not who I complain about” equals “I don’t think about you at all.” Chef’s kiss — even if it masks a deeper truth.
Though most of the record is a dance party, slow jam “French” is a much-needed pit stop. Its instrumentals are some of the oldest on the record, originating in 2017, according to a press release. Another song full of clever barbs, “French” sports beta-blocked beats and chillwave, sanded-edge synths. Kicked off by Grant, the song indicts high-society snobbery — or, even worse, people who front like they’re high class but are actually trash.
“It don’t make you cuter ’cause you said it in French / You’re not excused for being rude because you have a French accent,” Grant croons.
Grant and Ouellette seem to have a truly equal partnership. They point out in press materials that they work side by side on composition and production at Ouellette’s home studio. Ouellette also explains how they know a song is up to snuff: “If the instrumental sounds like an ’80s pop ballad took molly the night before, it’s a good instrumental.” I concur.
Jewelry Company’s members may feel bewildered by modern romance and communication, but they’re clear-eyed and confident when it comes to telling stories and lighting up the dance floor. Someone, please date them.
Romance Scam Online is available at jewelrycompany.bandcamp.com and on all major streaming platforms.
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