First Impressions: Wasteland by Laura Lee and the Jettes

My head was stuck in a retrospective mode for much of the week, with my headphones blasting my Top 20 albums of the year into my ears. I’m whittling them down to a Top 5 for my much-ballyhooed Album of the Year shindig, which is near. By Friday, however, I’d had enough and sought something fresh to shake the cobwebs loose. Hidden within the New Releases of Apple Music’s Indie section was Wasteland by Laura Lee and the Jettes. The name alone, no doubt due to my aged vintage, immediately conjured Nikki and the Corvettes, not to mention Joan Jett. What the hell, right? I pressed play.

Lee’s accent and the German-language fourth track, “Absolut,” sent me scurrying through the interwebs to learn more about her and her cohorts. In short, they’re a Berlin-based Krautrock band that describes themselves as “millennial grunge”; previously, she was one half of the garage-rock duo Gurr. (Yeah, I hadn’t heard of them, either.) While they sometimes sound (to borrow a lyric from the Blake Babies) like heavy metal rain upon the head, my initial reaction was that it’s far less Nirvana and much more Liz Phair (aka not grunge as it was once known), with some Blake Babies, Breeders, Belly and Best Coast thrown in for good measure. Today, I also hear (thanks to my wife, who pointed it out) Mazzy Star in a few of the spacier songs, plus a less-frenetic Ida Maria in the uptempo tracks—but, mostly, Liz Phair.

Lee handles lead vocals and guitar, while her band primarily features Mario Quezada on bass, Ellis Frawley on drums and the U.S.-born Mark Lewis on guitar. Collectively, to borrow from the Blake Babies again, they make a fire in a quiet sky. Aside from the overt Liz Phair influence, “Craiglist Boy” tackles something many public figures, but especially the women, face: Overzealous fans who want to be more than just fans. “If I was into you, you’d know” says it all.

Anyway, theirs is the kind of music that will cause you to bounce about or, if you’re in the car, drive fast—except when they veer into Mazzy Star territory, such as the closing “Swirl in the Haze.” “Perry,” another standout track, was inspired by one of the protagonists in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; it features a way-cool nod to the Kinks. It helps, I’m sure, that all but one song is in English; only “Absolut,” which sounds like a long-lost New Wave treasure, is in German.

If this had been released in any other month than December, it would likely be a slam-dunk for my Top 20 (though God knows what I would have dumped). The way the guitars grind to a high in “Cheap Wine,” in which Lee—talking to herself, I think—reminds herself that she’s not too old for a streak in her hair says it all. Growing old sucks, but growing old without new music sucks all the more. As such, give this one a go. It’s raw, ragged and raucous, the kind of thing that will add zest to your step.

The track list:

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