Updated: 2 days ago
In the past couple years, Jane Remover has become one of my favorite up and coming artists. I was introduced to her work with 2021’s Teen Week, an EP that combines the frantic energy of 100 gecs with emo angst, bouncing from bangers like “Homeswitcher” to digicore ballads like “Seventeen.” But Jane is always evolving. Just as I finished digesting Teen Week, she dropped her debut album Frailty later the same year, a sprawling odyssey in comparison and a project that has become one of my favorites of the decade thus far.
I could write pages and pages on Frailty. However, as this is a review of Jane’s newest album, I will limit myself to a paragraph. The album is a mind blowing combination of glitch, noise, emo, hyperpop and more, perfectly distilling the beautiful chaos that comes with transitioning out of adolescence. It is at times abrasive, at times subdued, and always engaging. I see it as the pinnacle of a very specific era of music circa 2020/2021—a post hyperpop, emo glitch explosion, alive only for a moment but responsible for some of my favorite recent music, of which Frailty is the brightest star. I’ve gone through phases with the project, initially becoming obsessed with the first batch of tracks, then the middle, and later addictively replaying the last few cuts. Each song scratches a different itch, all achieving some kind of catharsis. It is tied together by a leitmotif that lives in my head to this day, a simple jingle that sounds like it was lifted from a Nintendo game, contributing an added punch of nostalgia to the album experience. If you couldn’t tell, I adore Frailty and hold it close to my heart, and have grown alongside it as I’ve moved toward adulthood. I couldn’t have asked for a better companion, but damn did it set my expectations high for Jane Remover, especially considering she made Frailty when she was only seventeen.
The next year, Jane returned with a name change. Both Teen Week and Frailty were released under her previous moniker dltzk, an older alias that Jane wanted to shed as she entered a new chapter in her music career. Jane is no stranger to releasing music under different names, with a list of side projects and monikers longer than I can count. One project to note is called leroy, a name under which Jane pioneered a genre called dariacore, which features bewildering mashups of 2000s pop music reimagined in the context of fast paced dance music. These projects are a world unto themselves and yet another reason I am in awe of Jane’s artistic ability. I digress.
With Jane’s introduction of her new mainline identity, she released two new songs: “Royal Blue Walls” and “Cage Girl.” The former is an emo alt rock epic, the latter a more understated b-side, perfectly complimenting the grandeur of “Royal Blue Walls.” Both tracks hinted at yet another sonic shift for Jane, transitioning away from a more maximal electronic production toward something more subtly intricate. While there were plenty of elements of rock music present on Frailty, they now took center stage. I probably listened to these two songs fifteen times the day they came out. Consider me hooked.
Later in 2022, Jane made another pivot with a single titled “Contingency Song.” Gone was any hint of the dance oriented electronic music of Frailty, replaced by an enveloping drone with an atmosphere so thick it crushes you. It is devastating. Jane once again redefined who she could be as an artist, working with a new sound palette and somehow growing even more emotionally potent. It was the last taste of new Jane Remover music until the rollout for Census Designated this year.
It started in August with a picture of Jane lying in a barren field, dead trees and a decaying house as the only backdrop. Then came a picture from inside the house, featuring Jane covering up a bloody mouth and terrifying smile. Again, I was hooked. The rollout and world building for Census Designated was simple yet alluring, and fans would soon learn it perfectly encapsulated the sonic landscape of the new record. The lead single, “Lips,” came a few weeks into the rollout. The title track followed a month later, with the full project dropping the next month on October 20th. It was my most anticipated album this year. Did it deliver?
Census Designated wholly realized the stylistic change Jane began to unveil in her post-Frailty releases. It is a full fledged rock, shoegaze, and noise album, complete with guitar work on many songs from Doug Dulgarian of They Are Gutting a Body of Water. While it is interspersed with glitchy production and vocal layering akin to Jane’s older material, these additions are more peripheral, not core aspects of the production and songwriting. In their place are massive distorted guitars and bitcrushed screams, creating soundscapes that are more abrasive than the already intense noise Jane employed in her previous music. The screaming in particular adds so much texture, and the vocal processing is unreal, perfectly accompanying the guitar swells. Jane’s sung vocals, too, have evolved. While on Frailty she made great use of her low range, drawing some criticism for her monotone delivery (which I actually think provided great contrast to the dizzying production), on Census Designated she is singing in a higher register, revealing herself to be a more versatile vocalist. The project is both a pivot and natural evolution of Jane’s sound.
And it is a dense listen. Clocking in at just over an hour, the average track is six minutes long, allowing for Jane’s brooding atmospheres to evolve and explode at their own pace. It’s a slow burn, interspersed with wall of sound crescendos that can feel like an onslaught of bricks of distortion (non-derogatory, they’re gratifying bricks). Jane, as always, is pulling from a diverse array of influences, ranging from unabashed pop music like that of Miley Cyrus and Mariah Carey to harsh noise. The result is a familiar yet fresh sound; a combination of catchy guitar riffs, basslines and melodies articulated in noisy, heavy atmospheres. Jane gives herself a rock solid foundation to overwhelm with controlled chaos.
The way the music comes together perfectly compliments the aforementioned visual aesthetic. The sprawling plains, shades of beige with pockets of bright red, broken down house in the middle of nowhere—it’s haunting yet serene, sprawling yet contained, desolate yet intimate. Then there are the shots of Jane posing with a handgun, exhibiting a flirty yet dangerous swagger that only she could pull off. This imagery is perfectly embodied in the tone of the record, which I will now dive into track by track.
The album kicks off with “Cage Girl / Camgirl,” an updated version of “Cage Girl” that more than doubles the original runtime. It’s a slow burn and great tone setter for the album; the guitar swells are more subtle than on many later tracks and it’s a good way to ease listeners into the world of Census Designated. Second is “Lips,” the official lead single and certified banger. It makes perfect use of a few simple guitar riffs, gradually building an atmosphere by adding layers until heavy guitars pierce through at the three minute mark. From there, it’s mayhem. Drums come crashing in and make their first appearance on the record, eventually giving way to a glitchy, industrial outro which serves as a fittingly chaotic comedown.
The following tracks, “Fling” and “Holding a Leech” are two of the more straightforward cuts on the album. I’m slightly partial to “Holding a Leech,” which is almost slowcore in essence and has a few guitar tones that really just scratch an itch. “Fling” is still great though, and the intro is especially captivating with a glitched out drum fill sounding like Jane is breaking out of the matrix. The subsequent song, “Backseat Girl,” has maybe the most interesting groove on the album and sounds almost math rock adjacent. It also features a ridiculously satisfying scream three minutes in, brought out perfectly by the processing Jane sends it through. Overall though, while I do like these three songs, I think they may drag at points. Perhaps ironically, it's the longer cuts in the back half of the record that I am most enamored with and think better justify their runtimes.
“Idling Somewhere” is the second longest song on the album but is extremely well paced. Part of this might be due to the outro feeling distinct, splitting the sonic experience into a four minute core tune and three minute outro. This structure is reminiscent of “movies for guys” off of Frailty, a seminal cut from that record. Both tracks are crazy mid-album bangers that decay into minimal outros driven by simple guitar riffs. “Idling Somewhere” has one of my favorite choruses on Census Designated, gratifying and sticky in a way only Jane can conjure. The scream just before the two and a half minute mark is also perfectly distorted and contributes seamlessly to a post-chorus wall of noise.
The following “Always Have Always Will” is a fantastic, lowkey comedown from the highs of the previous track. The atmosphere is almost sweet, which is a nice contrast to most of the record, and Jane compliments this tone by delivering an incredibly catchy melody that begs to be sung along to. The guitar riffs are super catchy as well, and more open space in the mix allows Jane’s backing vocals to really shine. The vocal layering throughout Census Designated is commendable, but it's nice when they’re less smothered in the mix. They have a similar sheen on the penultimate track “Video.” I’ll get there in a minute.
Next up is the title track, “Census Designated,” which was the second single and remains one of my all time favorite Jane Remover songs. The rush of guitars that flood the chorus are one of my favorite moments in music this year. The looped backing vocal in the second verse is angelic. The bridge is perfect. The song has no drums and remains incredibly driving and dynamic; some guitar screeching acts as a drum fill equivalent, a super creative way to introduce rhythmic texture without percussive sounds. The glitchy outro brings the song to an eerie finish. Jane outdid herself.
Second to last, “Video” kicks off with an abrasive intro that leads into one of the more lowkey cuts on Census Designated. It is the longest song on the record, clocking in at almost nine minutes, but it is so worth it. Most of the song is pretty stripped back, allowing Jane’s vocals to really stand out; it’s some of my favorite singing on the album. The build is subtle and the chord progressions are sublime. I have to once again complement the backing vocals which are quite heavenly. In particular, the vocal that follows the lyric “video” is wonderfully airy, sounding like a balloon floating away. I know I haven’t touched on many lyrical themes, but the repeated line “All I want you to do is chase me” always feels like a punch in the gut—not in the way some of the walls of distortion do, but in a more subtle, devastating manner. While the lyrics of the song describe a particular story Jane is narrating, that line feels like it can stand alone.
Speaking of devastating, the last song on the album, “Contingency Song (Album Version),” is as raw and crippling as it gets. Like “Cage Girl / Camgirl,” it is an updated version of a previously released song. This time, however, the runtime is essentially the same, but some layers have been added to the production, most notably gut wrenching screams and a climactic guitar solo. It’s still a drone song, but the new layers make it all the more impactful. It gives me chills every time. When she launches into the lines, “I said I’m not in love, please don’t hurt me…,” there’s nothing more crushing. Except maybe the following lyrics, which I won’t spoil but leave to be experienced. This song is one of the most powerful album closers I have ever heard.
Census Designated is an experience. Jane came through with an emotionally arresting sophomore album, elevating her songwriting in entirely new sonic territory. Shoegaze revival is booming and Jane’s interpretation of the genre is one of the freshest I’ve heard. That said, the project is not without its faults. While only a few minutes longer than Frailty, it feels like more of a slog, in part because the pacing isn’t as engaging, the production isn’t as consistently dynamic, and some songs could be shorter. In particular, if some of the five minute songs in the first half lost a minute, they might pack a tighter punch and leave room for the longer songs to have more impact. In this way, Census Designated feels slightly backloaded, even though I really enjoy every track on its own.
I’m also unsure whether I prefer the album version of “Cage Girl” to the original. The shorter, more lofi version that came out as a “Royal Blue Walls” b-side had a lot of charm and a few intricacies that were removed in the updated cut. This isn’t a big critique, but I think it's an interesting phenomenon that is occurring more often now that some artists are more transparent about the songwriting process. In the past couple years, both Kanye West and Big Thief fans expressed outrage over changes made in releases of songs that had previously been performed or broadcast in demo form. It’s in some ways wonderful to get a closer look at how our favorite artists work and to hear songs evolve, but it inevitably comes with the baggage that people may get attached to things that artists decide to change. I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about this emerging phenomenon, but with more and more artists demoing songs on TikTok, it seems like something music fans will continue to contend with.
Anyway, Jane made a fantastic album. I implore fans of any kind of rock music to give Census Designated a listen, as it is easily one of the most important statements in the genre this year. If her past is any indication, she might not stay in this lane for very long, so enjoy it while it lasts. I couldn’t be more excited to hear where Jane Remover goes next.