One of pop’s central problems is that it’s always trying to be so damn popular. Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth aren’t, at least not in the usual boilerplate ways. They’re teenaged BFFs from Northeast England with a surrealist sense of humor, as their band name suggests. For the second Let’s Eat Grandma LP, <em>I’m All Ears</em>, they depart the willfully weird fringe territory of their debut for someplace nearer the mainstream, and the music is stronger for it — a balancing act of modern bubblegum synth-pop with rangy indie-rock restlessness.
Given the breadth of approaches, it shouldn’t hold together. Yet it does, from the punky club jam single of “Hot Pink” to the piano ballad “Ava” to the proggy 9-minute “Cool and Collected,” complete with a jammy guitar interlude. Production assists come from SOPHIE (who’s recently worked with kindred spirits Madonna and Charli XCX), David Wrench (ditto Frank Ocean and XX), and Faris Badwan (of The Horrors). The thick, girlish, utterly charming East English accents are a unifying element, as are the lyrics, which tap the strangeness of the everyday — “I pave the backstreet with the mist of my brain/I cross the gap between platform and train” goes one couplet of the pop-house anthem “Falling Into Me.” Ultimately it’s the spirit of adventure that runs through the entire enterprise that makes the diversity feel perfectly coherent, and timely. The future, after all, belongs to the young.