If the Pet Shop Boys’ vocalist Neil Tennant was the first music critic turned stupendously successful musician, Hannah Jocelyn aka Fell from the Tree should be the next in line. She is the editor at Singles Jukebox and has written for Pitchfork and Billboard, among others (I cannot say for sure whether her experience as a journalist influences her songwriting, but I would like to think it does). As an artist, her influences track from electropop, to hip hop, to post-punk; all wrestling for the same urgency.
“I thought I needed more time to sort it out, I guess I prayed too hard for the world to stop,” Jocelyn sings above a demanding bassline and beats bubbling with tension beneath her vocal on “Tread Water.” She is somewhat anxious, finally all her; on her fourth album, ENOUGH, the last album she will release under the Fell from the Tree moniker. Amid a global pandemic, personal issues are suddenly meaningless, right? But they cannot be so easily erased.
This is Jocelyn coming out with an album. This is Jocelyn saying enough with lying to herself; no more teasing and no more wallowing. The stakes are higher than ever for Fell from the Tree – the social consequences of transition are highlighted alongside newfound confidence in her identity. While the project remains endearingly lo-fi, the addition of live instrumentation and collaborators lifts these 11 tracks to new, accessible heights.
“Breaking Point” is Fell from the Tree’s homage to the innovative catchiness of TV on the Radio. It is packed with hooks and intensity – the track is inspired by a heartbreaking sentiment a friend expressed online, where they had found the will to live but regretted it. Another homage, this time to The Postal Service, is showcased on the electronic interlude, “Body (Bad Advice)”, where Jocelyn steps up her learning of Logic’s step sequencer. She removes some of her seriousness and just has fun. However, she continues to explore the hurt of not exploring your identity. While it is garbled and you could miss it if you don’t know it’s there, the words, “I can’t do what my body wants me to do, my body can’t do what it wants me to do/My body can’t do what I want it to, I can’t do what I want to with my body,” are as devastating as it gets for a gender transition story.
In “Weird Place,” Fell from the Tree examines toxic platonic relationships that end up informing later relationships. Not originally intended as sad-lyrics-meet-happy-music – my all-time favorite musical trope, if I’m being honest – “Weird Place” is better for it. Led by driving percussion, the track is a narrative that transports me straight back to 2012. I’m not sure how many people can relate to this experience, but as a person who essentially lived on Tumblr during my turbulent teens, I was the one in the weird place, as were my online friends. When Jocelyn takes a deep breath and sings, “Then I found your texts and laughed because we were really just kids (at least I was),” and follows it up with, “that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt,” she might as well hit me with a tonne of bricks.
Some of the finest moments on ENOUGH are dictated by Molly Robins’ violin playing. Take “Dress,” the best Fell from the Tree song yet. Robins enters at crucial emotional moments and brings songs to life. Complimented by equally important strokes on the piano, Jocelyn pulls inspiration from “No Reptiles” by Everything Everything. “Dress” is one of those songs you never want to end. Inspired by a party where Jocelyn dressed femme, knowing she would find a song in the experience (“I walked back home to say I did/Acting like that time was the last time I‘d do it”), she struggled to shake off her fear. The track reaches a poignant, loud climax where she has had enough of fear. The fear of giving anything up kept Jocelyn from being who she is for too long. “And when the music gets too loud, what joy do you get out of it?/I want to feel freer too/But I can’t move in this room/How do you?” Here, she fights against the feeling of not being good enough to transition. She has always been enough. It just took a long time to realize that.
While I could nit-pick the production, which is spot on for many tracks, I don’t find that any songs are bogged down by the mix. However, ENOUGH faces a different problem: sameness. That sameness, defined by electronica and a lack of various vocal stylings, is also cohesive. While consistent, cohesion doesn’t call for constant relistens. That’s where the different directions of LoneMoon’s rap verse on “Never Alone”; Molly Robins’ appearances and ambient artist Brosandi’s stunning guitar solos come in. Without these talented, very different collaborators, Fell from the Tree’s fourth album could be mistaken for monotonous. Good thing Jocelyn’s heart and songwriting could never be boring.