The title of Synthia is a promising way for The Jezabels to introduce their third album. Whilst their debut Prisoner rode the same wave of Australian alternative rock as bands like The Temper Trap, bolstered by their electrifying single Endless Summer, their follow up The Brink failed to find the same success. Their sound remained largely unchanged, and the seriousness of the band’s lyrics began to feel pretentious and dour. However, the inherent silliness in titling an album with a pun boded well for Synthia, suggesting that perhaps The Jezabels had loosened up a little, and whilst this is true, they’ve also focussed their sound and content into new terrain.
The opening track Stand and Deliver sets the tone for the album: grandiose, sweeping synth jams that sound more than a little bit like M83. The sounds and scope of Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming are a major presence on Synthia, mixing catchy, shoegaze inflected rock with huge, widescreen synthesisers. Delayed guitars and synth arpeggios meld on Stand and Deliver, building from a spoken word intro to a bombastic climax. My Love Is My Disease is the closest the band comes to recreating Endless Summer, with the transition from the volatile bassline of the verses, into the heavenly reverberated guitars of the chorus capturing the rush that made that song so thrilling. It would make an excellent single, which makes it curious that it hasn’t been released as such. The songs that were released as singles, Come Alive and Pleasure Drive are both a bit lifeless in comparison. Pleasure Drive tries to create a funky groove, but the song lacks meaningful development, and the chorus feels like a lesser version of My Love Is My Disease.
The lyrics by Hayley Mary have seen noteable development since The Brink as well. She’s talked about her interest in feminism, particularly in the context of infamously male-dominated rock scene. Smile sees her laying down the rules to an unnamed paramour. She invites him – “you can turn me on” – but clarifies “don’t tell me to smile / if you don’t know me brother”. It’s a remarkably confident sentiment, and it’s a very efficient summary of female agency and respect. The bridge in which she repeats “I could have just buried my mother” is silly, but cuts to the heart of the misogyny she’s critiquing. If Ya Want Me embodies a similarly confrontational tone, but in the context of feigning indifference. She demands “if you want me / tell me you want me”, insisting he can “always find another girl”.
This theme of self-determination is key to the album, and the epic instrumentation lends the content a larger-than-life appeal. Whilst criticisms of previous albums of the band have often revolved around their lack of subtlety, Synthia finds purpose in such. The band has no interest in mincing words or being quiet, they have created an album that announces itself and its ideas, and whilst it’s far from perfect, it’s a powerful statement.