Dawn Chorus #18: Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something – Oh Really, What’s That Then?

Dawn Chorus #18: Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something – Oh Really, What’s That Then?

There are albums which kick straight into you, your feelings chiming with them like a struck bell, and there are those which sit beside you and invite you to think outside of your own experience. The debut album from Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something does both through an astonishingly varied melodic collection of songs. 

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Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something Oh, Really What's That Then? album coverArtist: Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something
Album: Oh Really, What’s That Then?
Label: Trapped Animal
Year of release: 2019
Genre: alt-pop, alt-rock, psych

‘I was busy trying to find myself /  trying to find myself / trying to find / don’t you think I see you there?’

In just under 40 minutes of Oh Really, What’s That Then? Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something take you on a journey through classic rock, alt-rock, alt-pop, psych, and alt-Country. That’s a lot of alt going on already and we’ve only touched the surface.

This is a debut of considerable depth, a long dark night of the soul which is far from bleak and will echo through you even as your own sun rises. Musically eclectic but seamlessly woven, lyrically honest and intimate – a stunner of an album you’ll want to have on repeat? Yes, we’d very much say so.

Opening with ‘Helen is a Reptile’ you are immediately thrown rising anxiety, the unsettling creep. There are no jitters here, no nervous energy to be dispelled, but rather a pervading sense of menace. The lyrical personification of obsessive and suicidal thoughts, the stalking through the mind of this human-lizard hybrid in dark and vulnerable moments, gives ominous undertones to the scuzzy guitars, and crashing climax to the rhythm. The melody stretches as the lyrics circle, throat tightening as you listen and the squeals of instrumentation rise before the track disappears. The light may have been switched on but the night terrors conjured here huddle in the remaining shadows of your mind. These are songs which stay with you; part haunting fear following a step behind, part invisible friend keeping you company unconditionally.

‘Keytar (I Was Busy)’ lifts the mood melodically, bringing in new-wave pop vibes and Angel Olsen-esque vocal. With a viewpoint which switches throughout the song a duality is brought in, the way you play all parts of a conversation in your head and sometimes still find there is no resolution. Here, the keys twinkle, the backing vocals give a softer gauzey feel while there’s an ’80s clip to the beat. This is a pop song and no mistake, one which a nation could take to heart given the chance.

And that’s the thing about so many songs on this album – this could be massive even though it isn’t an overtly commercial sounding record. It is well produced, and it’s full of subtle but insistent hooks. But the real strength is being able to give you tunes which get stuck in your head and which you find yourself humming as you go about your life, while lyrically the songs sink into you and through you and your realisation of what it all means comes much later. This is beautifully crafted layered pop, with eclectic melodic exploration – all those alt- genres put together so seemingly effortlessly to show guitar-led music doesn’t have to be stale when in the right hands and shaped by the right mind.

Not just your pop-music genres getting a twist either – ‘Heaven on a Plate’ plays with nursery rhyme vocal rhythms to echo the idea this album is about rebirth and discovery as much as it is about wisdom and lessons learnt. ‘Count to Ten’ has a classic rock AOR introduction which The Eagles would envy, but the chorus breaks in with an uncontainable anxious and dark energy with detail and spin-outs that make this sound anything but pedestrian. More ’80s pop gets a subtle reference on ‘Distant Places’ with choir-like vocals layering around a familiar refrain before the heaviest of guitars tear the whole thing down. Almost every track breaks out into deliciously fuzzed up psychedelic flows – nothing is lost even when the sound builds close to being overwhelming.

A fascinating collection, coherent even in the confusion conjured deliberately in the melodies and riffs, and a debut which – no cliché intended – from an artist who’s given us so much and yet is so early on in their development. Such is the way of things that this album will be taken firmly to heart by the lucky ones who find it, and Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something loved with awe for the craft they’re honing and the boldness throughout these songs.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something live

  • 28 October – London, The Windmill
  • 18 November – Cambridge, The Blue Moon

Find Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something

Dawn Chorus is a week day feature sharing an album to listen to on your morning commute, the school run, or at other times with the intention of surfacing classics you might not have given time to yet, indulging in old favourites, and helping you discover the best of new releases. If you’d like to suggest an album for the feature, or contribute a guest write up on an album you think more people should hear, get in touch. Find and follow our growing playlist of tracks from featured Albums of the Day on Spotify here

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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