JayWood Unleashes Psych-Funk with a Mission on Slingshot
Jeremy Haywood-Smith examines oppression and emotion on his Winnipeg-based project's mixed debut LP for Captured TracksMusic Reviews JayWood
JayWood, the psych-funk project of Winnipeg’s Jeremy Haywood-Smith, is some of today’s easiest listening. Ever since adopting a hypnotic funk-pop sound after initially using the project to release morose jangle-pop, the broad palette from which Haywood-Smith now paints continues to expand. On his second full-length and first for Captured Tracks, Slingshot, Haywood-Smith seeks to diversify his sonic arrangements and push modern psych-pop to accomplish things greater than good vibes. In crafting Slingshot, Haywood-Smith found himself compelled to reach back into Black music history and imbue his own musical practice with those of his ancestors. JayWood draws from hip-hop, funk, indie rock, and more to craft an album with any listener’s favorite flavors.
Slingshot begins with a direct reference to JayWood’s first LP, 2019’s Time, entering with radio static and dialing sounds that are cut short as Haywood-Smith declares, “I’m tired of this shit.” The title,“Intro (End of an Era),” indicates that Haywood-Smith intends to use the album’s introduction to formally segue into a project that will be distinct from its predecessor. The following song, “God Is a Reptile,” enters at a brisk pace while Haywood-Smith begins unloading his frustrations. By the time the first verse is over, the drums accelerate rapidly while the aural backdrop gets a tad weirder. Haywood-Smith is processing frustration and anger throughout via the song’s abrasive synth layers and frenetic saxophone (performed by Eamon Sheil). “Pray, Move On” is the hypnagogic companion interlude where the listener can catch a much-needed breath.
“All Night Long” is one of several tracks on Slingshot where Haywood-Smith directly calls out social issues and picks them apart. After meditating on the rat race of life, he confronts the climate’s disastrous reality over a disco-chorus of synthesizers: “The seven seas, we killed the reefs / They’re home to our old plastic bags / Where are the bees? Don’t lie to me / They choke on the smoke from our planes.” On the subsequent song “Just Sayin’,” which features fellow Manitoban singer Ami Cheon, Haywood-Smith pushes his vocal sensibilities towards Michael Jackson-like pop on a song providing modest proposals for a robust social safety net. “Kitchen Floor” ruminates on white supremacist violence, oligarchy and extreme poverty over a washed-out blend of instrumentals, vocals and samples. While “All Night Long” and “Just Sayin’” can feel simultaneously heavy-handed and semi-committal (it’s one thing to list problems and another to analyze them), it is still compelling to see these animating political lightning rods be discussed on an indie record. At a time when so much music is focused on internal strife, JayWood highlights how his trials are connected with the tribulations all around him.
The record’s triumph, in terms of music and commentary, is “Shine,” which features both JayWood and McKinley Dixon rapping. The chorus is the catchiest on the album and highlights the particular urgency of the song’s message—Black people deserve immediate liberation. Haywood-Smith penned the song following George Floyd’s murder as a mechanism through which he could process the manifestations of anti-Black oppression he experiences personally and witnesses his family, collaborators and friends endure. He and Dixon do not spare any instance of racist oppression—from the affront of encountering whites with matted dreadlocks to the force of the state’s repressive apparatus—in what proves a particularly hypnotic track. Nothing that is said on “Shine” is to be ignored. Haywood-Smith directs that urgent energy into celebrating those who came before him on “Thank You,” a jangly, fun-filled track dedicated to his deceased mother. “Thank You” feels like the full upgrade of early JayWood into something that is catchy, psyched-out and heartwarming.
Other tracks on the album can feel a little out of place on this largely observational and devotional record. “Tulips,” which features pitched-up vocals and sharp synthesizers, feels like an overstimulated Homeshake track. While Haywood-Smith’s vocals are used well on “Is It True? (Dreams Pt. 3),” the washed-out, reverberant pop sound feels out of place. “YGBO – Interlude,” at three minutes in length, is rather long for an interlude, especially one as disorienting as this. However mixed Slingshot proves to be, there is little doubt that JayWood achieves success through incorporating diverse musical influence and peppering in some full-throated criticism. One can hope that JayWood will continue to build on those triumphs well into the future.
Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Merry-Go-Round and Post-Trash. He also arranges national & local shows at Cleveland’s legendary Grog Shop. He lives on Twitter @bigugly