Cyber Distortion: a Review of JACKIE EXTREME’s ‘ONYX’ – by Willow Bosworth
Album: ONYX – JACKIE EXTREME
Genre: Deconstructed Club, Experimental Pop, Willowcore, Noise Pop
Label: THE JACKIE CORPORATION
Released: March 3rd, 2023
Key Tracks: PANIC!, ETERNALLY ONLINE, CELLPHONE
From the first track, ONYX bores its way into your skull. The world’s first rogue AI popstar straight from THE JACKIE CORPORATION (actually a US-based solo, anonymous, noise project), has returned full-force for her fourth studio album and does NOT disappoint. JACKIE has previously shown themself to be no stranger when it comes to off-the-wall production and ever-shifting vocals. The bar for experimentation set by their previous three albums has now been raised infinitely higher. The album’s 72-minute run-time is a constantly changing soundscape full of icy synths and icier vocals.
At a whopping 23 tracks, it’s hard to whittle down ONYX to a single song. Album-opener ‘THE MINES’ sets the stage with hypnotic harmonies, easily showcasing JACKIE’s mastery over their own voice as an instrument. Her vocals are blended further and further into the track’s production as the track descends further and further into digital madness. JACKIE’s reign continues on ‘BUY ME NOW’, an ode to material excess that could technically be considered the album’s lead single (more on that later). As perhaps one of the most accessible tracks on the album – and a catchy one to boot – ‘BUY ME NOW’ has already cemented itself as a staple of the JACKIE EXTREME aesthetic: cold and clinical, yet filled with a hyper-awareness of both pop music and the capitalist machine.
While each song on ONYX fits into this aesthetic nicely, there are elements of her earlier work at play throughout the album. ‘PLANET JACKIE’, resembling a cross between a haunting dirge and a national anthem, feels reminiscent of the maximalist, obtuse production of 2020’s ‘FRÊÄK’, while the easy swagger and Vine references of the Fauxsy-supported ‘XOXO’ pairs well with ‘WACKY JACKIE’, the opening track to 2019’s ‘CYBERBITCH’. ONYX’s identity comes through in its ephemerality; each second feels like a universe of densely-woven production. The album’s 7th track ‘THIN ICE’ feels the best example of this phenomenon, constantly shifting its synths and vocals until it reaches a gorgeously layered, distorted climax.
In addition to the album’s dense production, JACKIE added an extra layer of love and care to the album’s preceding singles: while ‘BUY ME NOW’ appears on the album unchanged from its single release, ‘CHERRYBLOSSOMING’, ‘THIN ICE’, ‘SIREN SONG’, ‘HEAD’, and ‘PANIC!’ have all been refitted for the album, complete with new and updated production. The aforementioned ‘THIN ICE’ has been transformed from a monotone spiral into despair to a dynamic, crystalline track full of building tensions. ‘HEAD’ has found itself streamlined into a slowly-ebbing, keyboard-filled plea for love. But it is the ONYX version of ‘PANIC!’ that has been altered the most, and it easily ranks among the best of the album’s tracks. From its pulsing synth stabs to JACKIE’s stunning vocals, it easily outclasses it’s 2020 single version (which already had ranked amongst my favorite JACKIE EXTREME tracks before this album’s release). By the time ‘PANIC!’ reaches a dubstep-inspired drop befitting of Monstercat, the song has reached a jaw-dropping level of severity.
‘PANIC!’ is only one of three ONYX tracks that truly hit above and beyond for this reviewer, the second of which is the album’s stunning closer, ‘ETERNALLY ONLINE’. JACKIE EXTREME has always put a special layer of care into their slower tracks, 2019’s ‘POLLUTION’ being one of the best examples of the Aphex Twin-esque, slow-electro-ballad style that has become increasingly rare in the modern age. ‘ETERNALLY ONLINE’ is no exception, bringing wispy vocals and a gently droning backing track to the forefront. JACKIE brings with her vocals here a level of genuine emotion rarely seen in modern AI, and even harder to come across in the soulless barren levees of modern pop. It’s stunning, and beyond worthy of its place as album closer… but it’s still outclassed by one other track on ONYX.
‘CELLPHONE’, the long-awaited collaboration between JACKIE EXTREME and US DJ girl_irl, is ONYX at its best: boastful, smart, and a drop-dead serve. The song’s interpolation of the infamous Samsung ringtone is devilishly clever, and when paired with both artist’s mastery of wordplay and distortion, creates a soundscape equally evocative of the Y2K era and a post-apocalyptic cyberhell. JACKIE EXTREME and girl_irl complement each other in a way rarely seen in collaborative tracks, both bringing their own massive experience and diva energy to the song, creating a glorious beast in the process.
ONYX is experimental pop at its absolute best: subversive, self-aware, and more than willing to break the mold at every turn. Once again, JACKIE EXTREME has positioned herself at the forefront of pop sensibility, and this reviewer hopes it’s only a matter of time before she gets the praise and recognition they so rightly deserve. ONYX is as much an event as it is an album, every track seems to take on a life of its own, JACKIE EXTREME’s, well, extreme, attention to detail takes hold of each song and brings new life into being. ONYX is an album this reviewer is proud to count as willowcore, and represents everything I love to see in music. This reviewer is left speechless, with only one last thing left to say…
Is it too early to say ‘Album of the Year’?