Review: Spartan Jet-Plex – Live
National Music Reviews
Spartan Jet-Plex = Julie Byrne + early Angel Olsen x CocoRosie
“I am cells inside a cell,” writes Nancy Grim Kells, as both a bio and mantra for their project Spartan Jet-Plex. It’s a simple statement that seems unsophisticated at first, until deeper thought reveals its complexity. The same could be said for Live, Kells’ new album under the Spartan Jet-Plex moniker: While mellow and soft at first glance, a deeper look reveals Live as a layered and ominous chamber of emotive songwriting, eerie field recordings and a lifetime’s worth of introspection.
Written, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Kells in their living room in rural Virginia, Live is just as nuanced as it sounds. Sinister organ and ominous recitations introduce “Everything,” the first track on the record. “You’re here to find out what happened in the past,” a robotic voice urges, “Then let the music begin.” Kells’ mellow acoustic strumming and easygoing vocals contrast starkly with the jarring—and often disturbing—soundbites that sandwich each song. Crafted from field recordings collected by Kells from as far back as 2008, these transitional soundbites and vocal soundscapes elevate the lo-fi record into the sinister and alluring “dark folk” genre realm. As an extra treat, the purchase and download of Live contains the eight hidden field recordings Kells used to create these atmospheric transitions between tracks.
While it’s a stripped-down, easy listen overall, Live is no surface-level record. Kells’ lyrics are nostalgic, sometimes a little sad and full of feeling and reflection. The album is set to release on the 10th anniversary of their mother’s passing, and the track “Circle” is written specifically about her. “Her thoughts are dreams that I can find / Follow me as I have grown,” Kells sings. “We circle on to death after this life / In heart and mind, in joy and strife.”
Though Kells has only been playing out live as Spartan Jet-Plex since 2019, they’ve been making music for 20 years—this is apparent through their self-awareness and innovative songwriting. The way Kells’ soft vocals, vulnerable lyrics and stripped-down guitar mix with distorted samples on Live showcases an imaginative juxtaposition between horror and beauty, the balance of life as many of us experience it. –Mekenna Malan