"Plug yourself in when you wake"
Those are the six words that open Melbourne artist June Jones' new sophomore album, Leafcutter. They are jolting lyrics as you yawn, stretch and mentally prepare yourself for what lies ahead of you. But, as she implores you to join her on the twisting, introspective journey that is Leafcutter, you'll need to be more awake than ever, because this is an album that demands – and fulfills – your attention.
The self-produced record's stalking pop opener, "Jenny (Breathe)", was written almost three years ago, but the melody and blinking synths still sound incredibly fresh. Like the way a lighthouse beam swings around the midnight horizon, haunting notes swirl from one ear to the other. Jones builds the song's lyrics with commands that range from technical instruction to deeply human – "Reset the software with a safety pin / Jettison the years that held you down / Head below the water until you nearly drowned". Written with her love of science fiction in mind, Jones crafts a song that makes you – "Jenny" – feel superhuman. It's an ode to inner calm before expanding your limits, and that's exactly the rollercoaster Leafcutter – which Jones describes as "emotion punk" – takes you on throughout its nine songs.
June Jones has an ability to metaphorise almost any part of daily life and make it sound fantastical – even though the majority of Leafcutter is centred in her experience and thoughts. "Remember", a song written about her recently diagnosed-ADHD, puts those fast-paced thoughts over Gregorian-style chants and rapid synths as she ruminates on her condition, and the obstacles she manoeuvred while awaiting a diagnosis ("I've got a mind like a shopping centre food court / If there's a sky, she's got a name I can't recall"). It's one of Leafcutter's most sombre moments – longing for what many people take for granted – but Jones still manages to channel the accompanying feelings into a wondrous new world.
Wonder flows seamlessly throughout Leafcutter, even during its darkest moments. On "Inside", a track inspired by the anxiety of not knowing if she'd be able to see her new girlfriend due to the pandemic, Jones explores the spectrum of passion – the passionate love for her girlfriend, and the passionate sorrow of not being able to be with her. The stabbing production builds to the song's confessional climax, as Jones clings to whatever image of her partner she can muster. On "Holy Water", she soaks in the pain of mere existence and the desire to find order. "I try my best to be present / I try my best to exist / What more can I do than this?" she sings, as synthetic strings float around her silky vocals. Still, Jones finds a semblance of solace in her inner chaos – "I'm coarse but I am sensitive / I do and I do not love me / I think crying is beautiful, especially when it's ugly".
The album is consistent with its self-conceived ethos of emotion punk, but Jones remains wondrous in Leafcutter's calmer moments as well. Take "Therapy", for example – a saxophone-anchored anthem to retail therapy and the gratification it provides. "It's a calming effect of 'I can go and spend $4 and now I have this thing and this thing is going to mean that I can do something that I couldn't do before'," Jones told MTV Australia of the song.
"I wrote it to speak to the potentially common experience of retail therapy and just spending some time in a bright capitalist dystopia."
But it's on the album's standout track, "Home", where June Jones blooms. She sings of her experience as a trans woman in love, as well the journey she's embarked on to love herself. In a stunning culmination of her poetic songwriting, she waltzes through the human body's five senses and relates them to how she connects with her partner and herself. She sings of smelling perfume, her lover caressing her, the intimacies she whispers. When her lover looks at her, she almost can't fathom that she is on the receiving end – "The look of love you give to me / Sometimes I struggle to believe / That the woman who you lay your eyes on / Ever found a way to be".
The song is riddled with 'what ifs', as Jones weaves in and out of her fears, but the chorus is centred in the present. "This is now / And this is home / And home is all I've ever wanted" she sings in the album's rawest moment. As Jones embraces her lover, she momentarily achieves the ability to be present, the same thing she strived for in "Holy Water". Her mind can feel at ease, which is what she begged for in "Remember". Those precious moments of inner peace do not last the entirety of Leafcutter; they flash in blips before succumbing to that "shopping centre food court mind" once again.
But this isn't a record about achieving an idyllic state of mind. June Jones delicately builds Leafcutter, her skull-bound wonderland, as both shelter and spectacle, much like the ant the album takes its name from.. Sure, it can be a turbulent, stormy place, but there's always those sun rays glinting through the clouds to remind Jones that this is her home, and every day is worth recharging for.
June Jones' Leafcutter is out now.
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