Album Of The Week: Godless Goddess by Spartan Jet-Plex
Simply put, the new record Godless Goddess from Spartan Jet-Plex is nothing short of astonishing.
Resolute and brazen, the songs offer a poignant waltz through complicated emotions, many of which are still being refined and processed by the words and sounds, which makes for music that’s as restorative as it is energizing. Each song here is deeply stimulating, swinging boldly between rousing and stunning its listener with exposed words and stratified sounds. Firmly planted in loose folktronica due to its timeless archetypes and expansive modulations, it’s a record that that leans heavily on the stark lyricism of modern folk while using a backdrop of discreet and ambient electronica to help construct its vivid soundscapes.
This remarkable music comes to us from local musician and activist Nancy Kells, a prolific force who, in addition to the Spartan Jet Plex project, frequently performs alongside Womajich Dialyseiz and several other similar projects. Outside of performing, Kells is also one of the founders and heads of the Friends For Equality project which eventually morphed into the queer centered label Grimalkin Records, which released this record. This resume may seem like stat-padding in an already complimentary review, but it also helps understand the prudence on display within the music. With so much swirling around their everyday life, it’d be easy to expect, even excuse, a record from Kells as being scattered, indulgent, or even distended. But only a few minutes into this exquisite record, you’ll find that Godless Goddess is exactly the opposite. Focused, minimal, and intimate, it offers a shocking degree of clarity not normally found from artists and musicians inundated with ideas and projects,
The album begins on a high note, with the demure yet forceful “Stop” distilling the folktronica style of Kells through their imperative music. Carefully moving through droning tones and shielding strumming, Kells’ voice is gentle yet firm, like delicate innocence that’s somehow survived the pratfalls of reality. And “Stop” definitely relays early on that there have been pratfalls and adversities to overcome, offering this striking lyrical couplet early on: “I’m in and out / there’s dark and light / sometimes the darkness wins the fight.” Darkness certainly looms over the record here, in the bleak words or the tonal undercurrent, but it’s clear that Kells’ music talent is the light, something that effortlessly shines through no matter what else is swirling around.
From there, the record moves to the looped and sampled instrumental “Chronostasis Interlude,” which features contribution by Maryland musician Berko Lover. Abstract and challenging, it provides a nice counter-balance for the song before it, serving dual roles as an early palate cleanser and standalone composition that’s abstract and enthralling. “Fear” follows next, offering music more in the vein of “Stop,” but contrasting the album opener with a crooning melody relayed through a dark soundscape. With these elements, a dream pop mood settles in, even though the design is shrewdly minimal in order to zero in on the startling emotion on display.
“Baubo,” a bubbling and twinkling instrumental, comes next, serving in a similar role to “Chronostasis” earlier. It gives the album a nice flow, but also a nice paring approach for the record’s first half, with weighty and lofty compositions being balanced by more abstract exercises. Distorted laughter fills the outro here, and while it can be a bit jarring at first, it helps injects a sense of levity into the proceedings, something that Kells expounds upon as the record continues to tackle serious subject matter.
The next three tracks are more customary folk offerings, driven by familiar guitar strums while being accompanied by subtle electronic tones. But these songs are anything but straight-forward, housing moments of wild divergence with loosely defined improvisations or glitchy breakbeat sections to still keep the sound firmly rooted in folktronica. Like the laughing portion of “Baubo,” these moments are a breath of fresh air and relay Kells’ multifaceted talent that carry across their message of hope and harmony rising above pain and despair.
Closing out the record are two of the more ambitious tracks on the record. “Trust And Believe (Survivors)” comes first, a swirling electronic rumination that was directly inspired by the tense confirmation hearings of polarizing “judge” Brett Kavanaugh. It’s rigid and agitated throughout, but also houses a murmur of hope in its outro pointing to the fact that good things can still come out of all of this nonsense.
And then there’s “Light,” the record’s longest track that seems to wrap up all of the obstacles and misfortunes. On its surface, it seems to hover around the same sonic ideas Kells has already expressed here, but as the song hits its stride, layered vocals and close-knit harmonies enter the fray making you feel like a chorus of people with similar backgrounds and inclinations are right there with you. The song becomes a mantra at this point, one that could accompany an empowering march or healing tribute for hundreds. More importantly though, it points all of this music away from isolation and into connecting with each other, no matter the background, for support and insight, maybe even salvation.
Overall, Godless Goddess is a musical experience that will floor you with its raw emotion and poignant compositions. It’s a record not just for survivors of mental health and abuse, but for fans of deeply layered music that’s endlessly rewarding. Folktronica at its core, the luminous music is reinforced by ambient, experimental, and free rock deviations that sharpen its message and broaden its appeal. But this music also rises above simple labels, thanks to the hyper-vulnerability of its lyrics and canny approach to songwriting, landing Kells in a space all on their own, though still connected and supported by all that surrounds them like that closing message craves.
Early on in the record, Kells sings this striking line: “Sometimes it’s fight or flight / Sometimes the future’s bright.” The preservative tone of the first line makes the lyric instantly pop out, and while it may define much of the record’s mood, it’s the second half that will stick out as you finish this record. No matter what’s going on in the world, if we can continue to use art as an outlet to express ourselves, I think the future will always remain bright.