Jackie Hayes’ debut EP, take it, leave it is four songs and under eight minutes of clever lo-fi pop, a compelling demonstration of Hayes’ versatility and ability to fit full-sounding songs into quick bursts of time, almost like she writes expansive pop masterpieces and shrinks them down, Rick Moranis-style.
The Chicago-based Hayes comes from the hazier band, Family Reunions, where she performed as Jackie Carlson. On take it, leave it Hayes strives to get the songs out as quickly and efficiently as possible, musically and lyrically. Both are straight-forward, without a lot of time and energy spent swirling her sound in layers of production, nor cloaking her lyrics in mystery. Instead, Hayes builds out the songs themselves, so that while they’re short in duration, they feel whole.
The approach works well. The first track, “headache” is a bouncy, guitar-driven ode to being stuck in a dead-end job: “I think that I could quit / No they would never let me go.” The track is just over two minutes long, but Hayes wrings a lot of music out of it, even managing to get in a spoken-ish breakdown that works well with her voice, which is like a tougher Gwen Stefani.
On the quiet “enemy,” Hayes uses her voice and acoustic guitar for a ballad that reveals her jazz- influenced past, concluding the track with an effect that sounds like a swarm of bees, a decidedly un-jazzy move.
The jazz returns for “belong,” a song about trying to fit-in. Driven by a danceable beat, it’s the album’s densest track. Bass lines pop as Hayes throws soaring melodies across the tracks, often providing her own back-up vocals, a pretty song upended by the upset of the lyrics: “I just want to be a part of the world / I just want to belong.” The album concludes with “dead of winter,” almost a fusion of the other tracks in that Hayes integrates her dance and pop elements into a single track.
EPs are hard for everyone. For the listener, it’s a fast introduction to what might be a new artist. For musicians, it’s like trying to win someone over in just a few minutes. What’s impressive about take it, leave it is how Hayes manages to compress everything, crafting songs that last about the same amount of time as other artists’ outros, but making them, and EP, feel longer. And perhaps more importantly, making it all feel satisfyingly complete.