J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest


I’ll preface this by saying that I was quite a huge fan of J. McFarlane’s debut Ta Da. The record, the songwriter’s first under the name, and an extension of her post-Twerps dalliance as Hot Topic, was rooted in the brittle post-punk of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Mo-Dettes, Oh-Ok and Confetti all came to mind, but as we ease into her latest under the scrawled signature of Reality Guest, those touchstones crumble away completely. With new collaborator Thomas Kernot, the outfit has mutated into a new endeavor so much so connecting the two albums under the banner of the same band is difficult. Much more beat-oriented, the new record embraces the kind of smokey jazz-pop, dipping into the trip-hop pool, that was prevalent in the ‘90s. Grown out of a love of icons like Saint Etienne, the record mixes humid sonics with smoke rings of pop vocal, nodding also to Black Box Recorder and Laika mixed with a bit of modern murk a la Paco Sala. The new record establishes this atmosphere quickly and sinks into it’s leather and lacquer interior with confident comfort.

The tonal one-eighty aside, Whoopee is a huge step forward for McFarlane. It leaves behind any remnants of her indie-pop past, letting her voice slip like fog over sleek pop boundaries. Embracing the sway of jazz in many moments, the record swings between the lounged ease of the early aughts’ need to pick apart the Blue Note catalog and the more progressive arm of the ‘90s pop/dance crossover. The record cozies up to the Night School roster pretty quickly in that regard. As out of synch with the label as Ta Da might have seemed, if they’d already had pieces of Whoopee in hand, then it makes that much more sense. Though less wrapped in dry ice than her labelmate Molly Nilsson, there’s certainly a crossover appeal between the two and the same could be said for the brittle pop of R Elizabeth. The record feels like a watershed moment for McFarlane, and as it slips out into the ether today, we all bear witness to the beginning of her pop ascension.

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