Jessica Lea Mayfield may be best known as the airy-voiced young protégé of garage rockers the Black Keys, but there’s more grit to her than that. Despite her neo-country roots, her third LP makes clear that she knows her way around a Hole record (and might even have a copy of Dopesmoker tucked away somewhere, too). The piercing chords on opening track “Oblivious” jut out of a syrupy, messily distorted stoner doom riff, bass-heavy and sleepy-eyed. Mayfield’s wispy vocals rise up through the gloom, striding into the spotlight. A faint drawl colors her deceptively simple phrasing as singsong repetition drives her downcast points home and lines like “I’m insane, I wanna love you” fade into an uncomfortable blur.
This isn’t a happy record by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s imbued with a quiet, bullheaded resolve. Mayfield may sing like an angel, but she’s got the Devil in her rearview mirror. Her easy juxtaposition of sinister and sweet recalls the haunting tones of Black Mare, but there’s also a pronounced grunge influence, from the blatant In Utero riff on “Pure Stuff” to the bottom-heavy groove and sickly-sweet Courtney Love purr on “Anything You Want.” Save for the chilling lament of “Party Drugs” or post-rock trills on “Unknown Big Secret,” the ghostly minimalism of her lighter tracks makes for pleasant background music but ultimately doesn’t offer much to hold onto. Make My Head Sing… would’ve been better if she’d stuck with the heavy artillery and ditched the Chelsea Wolfe impression altogether. She’s at her best when she sinks a little lower.