Jilian Medford, the songwriter behind gnarled indie rock project IAN SWEET, has a knack for casual devastation. Over the last five years, she’s made twisting, imagistic songs that function both as a depiction of and ballast against the heaviness of moving through the world. There’s one great line, from the last IAN SWEET record Shapeshifter (released in 2016), that’s kinda illustrative of exactly what makes Medford’s compositions so impactful. The first verse on “23,” talks about coping with loneliness by embracing bad TV: “Turn on that History Channel,” she sings. “VHS about the mummies / It keeps me company, company.” It’s a low-key, kinda sweet, but also just incredibly sad the more you think about it, speaking as someone prone to losing entire summers to Chopped binges.
On October 26, Medford will issue a new album called Crush Crusher, which appropriate to its title, demonstrates even more of her knack for turning small moments and fragmented images into emotional wrecking balls. Over email, Medford says her headspace was a little different making this record than it was for Shapeshifter. In the two years since, she’s moved back to Los Angeles finding “comfortability in more sporadic human interactions” compared with the overstimulation that her years in New York offered.
“I have been trying to surround myself with what I know will bring me at least one moment of pure bliss a day,” she says. “Whether it be nature related or animal related or cutting off a small piece of my hair to spark a change. Because of this, the record does a lot of self-exploration similar to small things I do throughout the day.”
Like on past records, Crush Crusher finds Medford tracing the complex network of social relations in which all humans find themselves intertwined. On the album’s lead single “Hiding,” she mulled the responsibility she has to other people that she loves, taking comfort in the idea that it’s OK to hide away to preserve herself on occasion. On that track—and throughout the record—her interpersonal musings come accompanied by tempestuous guitar parts, and gnarled chord voicings lending a heaviness and a discomfort to the musings, a sense that whatever conclusions she comes to aren’t totally settled, just the best she can do for now.
It’s emotionally complicated music that offers no easy answers. But though Medford spoken about how her music is both a depiction of and refuge from the anxiety she grapples with on a daily basis, there’s something more self-assured about the situations and existential wrestling she depicts on Crush Crusher. “It wasn’t easy and I had some of the most crippling panic attacks I’ve ever had,” she says. “But at this point in my life, my anxiety does not feel as detrimental. I think this record reflects that I have been trying to help myself. Trying to see and trust all the good I have.”
One of the standout moments on the record is its second track “Spit” (premiering here today). The song is a typhonic ripper that Medford says is meant to reflect the idea of sabotaging yourself in relationships.
“I wrote the song in the [beginning] stages of a relationship and was already having premonitions of ruining it,” she says. “Sometimes I like doing this type of songwriting where I predict how something will go. Writing a song for the future breakup. It’s fun but sad.”
If that sounds like a bummer, part of what makes Crush Crusher so great is that Medford doesn’t really treat it that way. “Spit” roils on a storm of tightly-wound guitar parts that sorta sound like seasick Ride riffs, while Medford sings confidently of wanting to be devoured and dissolved.
The songs on Crush Crusher feel like a good step, songs that trace the complicatedness of trying to figure out where you stand with other people, but offer some comfort when you don’t have any answers. One answer it does offer: You can always lose yourself in distortion.
“I find a lot of uncertainty in my emotions from day to day and when I see that in someone else I tend to not feel so alone,” she says. “But I am constantly working on it. Going to therapy, talking it through with friends, trying to find healthy outlets of expression.”
IAN SWEET tour dates:
October 18 - Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room #
October 20 - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill #
October 22 - Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios #
October 23 - Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret #
October 24 - Seattle, WA @ Sunset Tavern #
October 25 - Boise, ID @ The Olympic #
October 26 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court #
October 27 - Denver, CO @ Hi Dive #
October 29 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry #
October 30 - Chicago @ Subterranean #
November 1 - Toronto, ON @ The Monarch #
November 2 - Buffalo @ Mohawk Place #
November 3 - Boston, MA @ Great Scott # ^
November 5 - Brooklyn, NY @ Park Church Co-op # ^
November 6 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's # ^
November 7 - Washington, DC @ Union Stage #
November 8 - Durham, NC @ The Pinhook #
November 9 - Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight #
November 10 - Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn #
November 11 - Orlando, FL @ 11Eleven Fest
November 12 - Tallahassee, FL @ The Wilbury #
November 13 - New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa #
November 14 - Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall #
November 15 - Dallas, TX @ Three Links #
November 16 - Austin, TX @ The Mohawk #
November 19 - Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar #
November 20 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar #
# w/ Young Jesus
^ w/ Sean Henry
IAN SWEET's Crush Crusher is out October 26 on Hardly Art. It's available for pre-order now.