National Music Reviews
Are You Haunted?
Methyl Ethel = Perfume Genius x Cub Sport
Are You Haunted? is the question that titles Methyl Ethel (a.k.a. Jake Webb)’s fourth album, though he already knows the answer. We are all haunted by something—often, many things. To explore this, Webb weaves his usual inventive, ’80s pop-leaning electronica with some darker, eerie tones in his latest iteration as Methyl Ethel for a release that’s as danceable as it is introspective.
Piano arpeggios, fuzzy synth and echoing vocals merge on the first track, “Ghosting,” in which Webb indeed sounds like something supernatural, beckoning to mere mortals from a dark corner. The electronic syncopations of “Proof,” featuring fellow Aussie musician Stella Donnelly, dare even the dead not to tap their feet to its catchy beat.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Webb repeats to himself on “Something to Worry About.” Throughout it, he seems to be attempting to rid himself of his ghosts. When paired with the sporadic time changes and unexpected instruments of songs like “Kids on Holiday,” Webb’s fidgety, often hard-to-understand lyrics allude to the apparent restlessness of his psyche, though his upbeat tempos mask this anxiousness somewhat.
The tracks “Neon Cheap” and “Matters” were both released in 2021 as standalone singles and are the least gloomy additions to Are You Haunted?. The fact that these songs don’t particularly seem to mesh with the rest of the track list is a nonissue in the face of Webb’s ’80s-inspired electronic riffs, androgynous voice and lively choruses that would have stood out as golden tracks on a pre-2012 Portugal. The Man record.
“One and Beat” is the best example of the way Methyl Ethel blends genres and vague lyrics that evade categorization and, at times, evade emotional connection—which may be intriguing or confusing, depending on the listener. But from the beginning of the album to the sweeping instrumental epics of “In a Minute, Sublime” in the album’s final moments, the message of Are You Haunted? is clear: In the face of your ghosts, dance them away. –Mekenna Malan