If I don​’​t make it, I love u

Whatever ineffable force makes music feel both contained and alive, Still House Plants have it. Their beautifully fractured sound seems made of nerve endings, like the band’s process is on view and we’re hearing the very moment of a Still House Plants song taking shape. The London trio of vocalist Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach, guitarist Finlay Clark, and drummer David Kennedy, who met about a decade ago at the Glasgow School of Art, once said they practice only the starts and endings of their songs, which underscores how each one works: as a vessel for abandon.

Is it telepathy that guides them? When Still House Plants made their U.S. debut in New York last spring, they often communicated among themselves with just their eyes. Elongated silences held between notes would put the audience on edge before everything crashed together at exquisitely incongruous angles. On stage as on record, the trio inhabits the free space of punk and the capaciousness of free improvisation at their own frequency.

Like 2020’s Fast Edit, which established Still House Plants as one of the most exciting experimental rock bands around, If I don’t make it, I love u still eschews conventional song forms in favor of a kind of collective flickering, with rhythms that speed and slow by their own logic and carry the persistent charge of small epiphanies. But this is a bolder, clearer, preternaturally vivid iteration of their music; “I’ve been trying to get much stronger,” Hickie-Kallenbach sings on “MORE BOY,” a thesis. Kennedy brings the inquisitiveness of a free-jazz drummer while Clark uses their guitar to synthesize the glimmer of Midwest emo and ’90s slowcore with the choppy minimalism of no wave. Hickie-Kallenbach’s deep, soulful singing suggests Tirzah’s R&B rasp if it were more elastic and ecstatic. The band applies the tropes of electronic music (samples, breaks, loops) in the way they construct, or more accurately deconstruct, songs with only guitar, voice, and drums. A Still House Plants song is a three-way search forward. It’s always a high-wire act.

The album is divided into 11 tracks, but it feels anchored more discernibly by specific moments within songs: notes and tones that make you think, What’s that? The answer might be some unknown glitter in the guitar, or some marvelous friction, like the sparks that punctuate “M M M” or the buzzsaw discord that cuts through “Silver grit passes thru my teeth” like a flash of shoegaze. The melted chords of “Pant” and wobbly edges of “3scr3w3” make me think fleetingly of Autechre (and it’s hard to imagine another band that could simultaneously conjure Autechre and American Football while speaking their own language entirely). On “MORE BOY,” when the drums pick up midway and Hickie-Kallenbach’s singing locks in, ascending over Clark’s chiming guitar, it’s chilling. The singer’s guttural vocals glitch, digging into a repeated phrase, as if she were sampling herself using only her voice. “MORE BOY” also proves Kennedy’s assertion in an interview with The Wire that withholding drum fills “helps in building up a continuous phrase that never finishes,” a liminal sound.

Still House Plants play with an egalitarian ethos; no one instrument dictates how a song moves. “It’s natural to think that the voice sits at the front, the drums drive, and the guitar is like the bricks, but we move all that around quite a lot,” Hickie-Kallenbach recently told The Quietus. Clark said that “it’s important to remember [the guitar] is just metal and wood,” and “not to get too caught up in what a guitar is ‘supposed’ to do.” Perhaps this extends to the way Hickie-Kallenbach’s lyrics, which are often inscrutable, don’t seem to determine what a song is about—as she told The Wire, she distances herself from the mandate to “narrativize” as the vocalist.

But when her words do ring clearly, If I don’t make it, I love u offers a unique mix of mystery and disclosure. “Deeply sensitive, deeply watchful, mostly head down,” Hickie-Kallenbach sings shyly on “no sleep deep risk,” putting a character inside the music’s abstractions; “I really like it my way.” On “M M M,” I’m pretty sure she croons, “I just want my friends to get me/I want most to support them,” between admissions that “I just want to be seen right” and “I wish I was cool,” the melisma of the final word lasting five full seconds. This heartfelt sentiment feels just as risky as the improvisatory bones of the music. It emphasizes the intimacy and vulnerability inherent in their cracked-open musical dialogue. The very title of the album is an emotional prism: If I don’t make it, I love u could be what you’d say to a friend when you’re not sure if you’ll make their birthday party, or it could be the most tragic text message ever composed.

There are precedents for Still House Plants’ postmodern collage and fragmentation. This is the process-oriented essence of ’70s post-punk, prioritizing deconstructed sounds over impossible wholeness—a fractured aesthetic for our fractured, plural selves. Still House Plants have cited other ’90s and early-’00s math-rock and slowcore influences (like Bedhead, Life Without Buildings, and Red House Painters, who inspired their band name). Yet to fixate on the past feels at odds with the unfixed music. If Still House Plants truly evoke anything about those predecessors, it’s how firmly their vision feels of its time—not only in the fevered assembly and unraveling of their stylistic melange, but in the fusion of emotional candor, electronic technique, and conceptual art strategies.

It speaks further to Still House Plants’ rare power that this record comes out via a tiny UK label called Bison, which was created after its founder, an employee of London avant-garde music hub Cafe Oto, saw a 2016 set by the band and established the imprint to release their debut. Maybe the space inside the tracks allows us to bring what we want to the music, but I associate Still House Plants with the conditions of how I first heard them, a time when my mind and heart were rearranging themselves with the stark, uneasy clarity of a new beginning. Note by note, If I don’t make it, I love u seems pitched to that generative, indeterminate energy. “It’s hard to know about anything,” Hickie-Kallenbach sings on “Pant.” “But feeling is good by me.”

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Still House Plants: If I Don’t Make It, I Love U