Ian Sweet’s new album, Sucker, opens with mortal fear. “What if I die?” Jilian Medford wonders; after a piano chord rings out for a moment, she continues: She’s afraid she’ll pass “with this song in my head,” that she’ll “never get to sing it.” Medford is no stranger to high-stakes songwriting: She wrote most of 2021’s ambitious and emotionally rich Show Me How You Disappear after spending two months in an intensive outpatient mental health program. Writing that record, Medford told Rolling Stone, was a process of “sifting through the weeds, grasping onto things, like, ‘I hope this lyric will help me literally to survive.’”

But despite its opening lines, Sucker doesn’t reprise that make-or-break intensity. Instead, Medford dials down the pressure, turning her attention to more mundane crises: letting herself fall for someone who will probably break her heart; the quiet aftermath of a breakup; cutting her bangs even though she swore she wouldn’t. Retaining her commitment to emotional transparency, she leans into high-adrenaline hooks and poignant self-reflection with confidence and grit.

Medford produced the record alongside Alex Craig and Strange Ranger’s Isaac Eiger, working at an artists’ residency at the Outlier Inn, a Catskill Mountains establishment where 24-hour studio access offered them space for experimentation and spontaneity. The songs are tightly constructed, but don’t feel buttoned-up; even when they deal with bruising emotions, there’s a current of lightheartedness and fun. The propulsive and fuzzy “Your Spit” reflects on the doubt that accompanies new relationships, but it’s also just about the thrill of making out. Her voice, which starts near a whisper, becomes a shriek of joy when the big synths kick in.

“Emergency Contact” and “Sucker,” with their shoegaze guitars and catchy hooks, are a deft synthesis of Ian Sweet’s indie rock beginnings and Medford’s playful pop instincts. Across the album, she tweaks a classic quiet-loud recipe just enough that songs like “Smoking Again” and “Your Spit,” with all their swerves and eruptions, feel like joyrides. Towards the back half, that catharsis can verge on predictable, but smart production flourishes—the creaky synth line on “Clean,” the corroded climax of “Hard”—continually push the music into stranger, more inventive territory.

Medford grounds her lyrics in memorable, off-kilter specificity: the melodic hum of power lines during a long drive, the salty taste of a kiss, an ex who always misspelled her name (“Two Ls when there’s only one/And a G instead of a J”). She takes herself to task, copping to mistakes with a self-deprecating wink. “I run my mouth/Like I run away/From everything,” she sings on the understated “Comeback.” When romantic trouble arises, she’ll say she had it coming. “I’m a sucker for the pain/And heartbreak,” she admits on the title track. If Show Me How You Disappear was a testament to perseverance and self-reliance in tremendously challenging times, Sucker is evidence that those skills still enrich us even when circumstances aren’t so dire. There’s palpable joy in the songs’ anthemic structures and Medford’s bright, confident delivery, even though there are reminders that this self-awareness was hard-won. Medford makes the crying and bleeding sound fortifying nonetheless. “It’s just a cut,” she sings on “Clean,” “and baby, I’m tough.”

All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Ian Sweet: Sucker