Jen Cloher is from Melbourne, Australia and married to Courtney Barnett, who plays guitar on the whole album. I can only hope that Ms. Barnett is not the jealous kind, because it is her partner who has made the best album so far. She released several albums before this one, but they all passed me by. Things start here for me.
Jen Cloher is not one to keep her influences hidden. In general it is an obvious conclusion that on Jen Cloher alternative rock is her mainstay area. More specific the nihilistic rhythms of The Velvet Underground and the deadly vocals of Lou Reed are the basis the album is built on. So the couple Barnett-Cloher are fishing in the same pond musically, with Cloher being the more direct of the two.
The opening of the album is a very decent song, 'Forgot Myself'. It is with the second song. 'Analysis Paralysis', that I really started to prick up my ears. The Velvets are all over the song and competing with the 60s band's best up-tempo songs with ease. While the drums just go on and on in a 'What Goes On' fashion, the guitars go for it. Each in one of my ears. One chugging a rhythm, the other adding solo notes and going crazy in the solo, that is squirming within the boundaries of the chord progression and taking a peek outside here and there to see what happens. Near 8 minutes and not one second too many.
The voice of Jen Cloher goes from Lou Reed's style to her own. Every once in a while she can't help to soften her voice and even let a few emotions in. Taking the song on a trip that the guitars end. A third guitar enters the whole and well, what can I say. It brakes all the rules, yet adds to the fun. 'Analysis Paralysis' is a great song, that sets Jen Cloher firmly within my musical world.
After this onslaught the mood mellows out considerably. The artist shows a totally other side to herself, with songs that could be called alternative ballads. A soft chugging guitar, a few solo notes, a modest bass guitar and a drum that plays loudest of all. Over it she sings with a voice edging towards a whisper. Lou Doillon comes to mind here. Soft, mellow and bursting at the seams with quality, 'Regional Echo' is. The song that follows is even softer, as an acoustic guitar enters the scene. 'Sensory Memory' is about a relationship with someone at a distance, a touring musician. Now both are touring musicians, so the question whether this is autobiographical may not have to be asked. Slowly the song expands and grows bigger with little additions and counter melodies, where slowly a little madness creeps in. I have no way of telling who is playing what at this point in time, but one of the guitarists is Courtney Barnett and I have a better knowledge of her songs up to now.
The rock side of Jen Cloher returns with 'Shoegazers' which again addresses the life of touring musicians and breakthroughs. "It's got nothing to do with making music". Even my lot, the critic, is addressed when Jen Cloher fears to be forgotten tomorrow. Not so fast, Ms. Cloher, I have only just discovered you. Again the song explodes in an oh so pleasant way. No straight lines in sight, guitars holler and moan and move towards the exit with a dark, staggering sound.
With 'Strong Woman' the most recognisable song so far starts. Like so many of the alternative rock girlbands of the 10s. Again Jen Cloher kicks in the peddle in the choruses. The guitars are allowed to drift out of the song. Feedback is barely kept in its cage. These musicians are clearly having fun and giving it their all to make 'Strong Woman' a success.
Moving into the second half of the album the atmosphere is now familiar. Still the album surprises with a more bare rocksong like 'Great Australian Bite'. More harsh, but also more elementary. There are no frills to make things prettier than they are. No not the choir either. It adds to the darkness of the song, that lets through less and less light and openness.
The acoustic guitar that follows in 'Loose Magic' is a relief. Jen Cloher is at its softest. The mood keeps going up and down until the very last note of the album. Jen Cloher is not afraid to sound soft but is neither afraid of opening the floodgates of her mind and let it all hurtle out, conscious, unconscious and everything in between. Her music takes on many forms and guises with one constant factor: so far I think Jen Cloher contains pretty sensational music.
You can listen to and buy Jen Cloher here: