Indie Music

Jess Ribeiro: Summer of Love review – a balm for anxious times

Jess Ribeiro has range. Over the last decade, the Melbourne singer-songwriter has flitted from gentle storytelling to something a little weirder and more experimental. There was the folksy world of her debut, 2012’s My Little River; her following two albums added more texture and reverb, and a bit of jangle to boot. Central to it all is Ribeiro’s voice, which conveys worlds of emotion through its unadorned honesty.

Straddling these two modes, Summer of Love is Ribeiro’s first album in half a decade. Its carefree title belies its often sombre lyricism, relaying Ribeiro’s ennui in the face of modern life.

At times, the songwriting and delivery on this record recalls another Melbourne great, Sarah Mary Chadwick. On opener Maybe if I Wore Sunglasses Inside I Won’t Feel Tired, Ribeiro shares Chadwick’s raw despair; her vocals almost take on a monotone against sparse piano backing. Repetition drives her point home about the mundanity of existence: “Oh, another day, another day, another day …”

The foreboding restlessness in these songs is offset by an affinity for the natural world – a sense of acceptance and living in the present. Bucolic images flood the tracks Everything is Now, The Trees and Me, and the gentle, largely acoustic love song Paradise, all pondering how nature can become a salve for our contemporary anxiety.

“My heart is opening,” Ribeiro sings sumptuously on The Trees and Me – then, later in the song, when she implores the listener to go outside and walk barefoot in the dew, the perspective flips: “Your heart is opening again.” Her voice is barely a whisper, but contains comfort and hope all the same.

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These symmetries recur. The same image of children frolicking closes both Helicopter and Wake in Fright, two sonically very different songs – the former an atonal and discordant experimental soundscape, the latter soft and saxophone-drenched. “Children play, night and day – don’t forget them,” she intones over a chaotic wall of noise on Helicopter; meanwhile, on Wake in Fright, “children play in the darkest hours, don’t forget”, before the saxophone drifts off into a warm sonic blanket. The innocent perspective endures in both – it suggests hope, or maybe even healing.

Much of Summer of Love’s power also lies in its instrumentation, and how it builds. The title track begins simply, and details are slowly filled in – a fizzing violin tremolo eventually swells into a full string arrangement. Those strings adopt a different shade on Helicopter, where their harsh application contrasts the soft balm of Ribeiro’s voice – a reminder of life’s strange dualities.

Closing track Howl is introduced over pulsing keys before growing to include choral accompaniment, then blooming into a two-minute instrumental outro: those discordant strings and tremolos again, this time as a hushed echo. It’s all cyclical; Ribeiro’s voice fades out and leaves only this contemplative whirring.

Summer of Love isn’t an album that hits you in the face: on first listen, many of these songs are unassuming. But listen closer and you’ll notice the careful patterns, the resonances and mirrors. With these songs, Ribeiro communicates something sublime – a record of our anxious times, with a dash of optimism for a better future. One in which we experience it all, the light and the dark, together.

  • Summer of Love is out now through Poison City Records

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