Anyone who has ever gone to therapy knows that it can take years to accurately qualify, articulate and compartmentalize feelings like anger, resentment, isolation, love, affection, confusion and emotional unease and then begin to deal with them in a healthy manner. It’s all a process and, in that regard, Jen Gloeckner has arrived miles ahead of the game on her third album, Vine.
After having slugged it out in the trenches for over a decade (her debut album, Miles Away, landed pretty quietly on One Little Indian’s release schedule in 2005 and, while the improvements made to it on 2010’s Mouth Of Mars were impressive, it made a fraction of the impact that everyone hoped), the singer arrives fresh with a new, clearer vision as well as a far sharper tongue this time out.
Now, while all of the qualifications and praise above is definitely true of Vine, it may take a second for listeners to find their way into the album because it functions on its own terms and requires that listeners bow to it rather than the opposite. As the title track shows listeners into the A-side, they’re met by chilly, manufactured beats and instrumentation which could best be characterized as “Bjorkian” [that which one would expect to hear on a Bjork album] which proves to give off a regal but blue impression as echoey, sonorous sounds gel with gently plucked acoustic guitar strings.
That is, needless to say, very fine – but, when Gloeckner herself appears to preside over the proceedings with the words, “I gave you one or two tries, but all I get is lost/ I treat you like a fine wine, but all I get is vine,” listeners may find themselves feeling as though they’ve been set adrift in a dreamy but uncertain pool. The music itself is dark and beautiful, but also attempts to be introspective and the sort of monotone vocal melody that the singer tries to push out feels static compared to the accompanying music.
The sort of single-minded, aloof and ill-advised design of “Vine” endures as the album’s A-side continues undeviated, but at least it can be said that there are patches of light to be found along the way, if only for contrast. One such shaft of light can be found in the tribal-electronic synthesis of “Firefly,” which angles for a brighter melody while dancing between beats – and that difference alone really changes the song’s overall tenor; suddenly, an infinite number of possibilities seem to emerge, spontaneously.
When that tone slides back to a darker space again (as it does for “Breathe”) after “Firefly,” some listeners may feel incredibly betrayed (especially by the screechy violin solo in that song), but it will also keep them glued to the album as they keep looking for another bright spot – which they’ll find in the romantic duende of “The Last Thought” as well as in the Leonard Cohen-esque “Blowing Through,” which closes the side. Each turn along the way isn’t the smoothest every time but, at least occasionally, it’s proves to be just right to capture listeners’ imagination.
After listeners have been baited by the on-again-off-again drive of Vine‘s A-side and been given a sense of what they can expect on the B-, they won’t find a lot of variation from that projected form but they’ll happily realize that in no way means it’s a diminished return.
Right off, “Counting Sheep” picks up on a light, sleepy vibe with the help of some breezy synths and sighing supporting vocals, and listeners will actually be able to feel stress wick out of themselves – the sensation is pretty remarkable. “Prayers” (also known as the most conventionally poppy song on the album) follows and upholds the tranquilizing sensation set up by “Counting Sheep” as do “Colors” and “Row With The Flow” and, as they make their way through, listeners may begin to rightly feel as though the singer has really turned a corner in this running and really hit upon something great.
While the darkness of Vine‘s A-side wasn’t bad, there’s no question that Gloeckner wears the lighter tones of the B-side much, much more easily. Even when “Sold” aerates out and begins to smell similar to the fare on Vine‘s A-side, Gloeckner resists the opportunity to pull listeners back too far in that direction; because of that, the way the album closes really does feel like movement forward in the context of the singer’s catalogue.
…And, when it does close, listeners will find that the implied movement forward expressed by Vine really does make for a warm and satisfying conclusion. Previously, while Gloeckner’s music certainly had some fine points to find from album to album, the growth here feels far more exciting and of a sort that anyone who has gone from front to back with the album would be happy to revisit; the way the album moves from darker and more foreboding emotional ground to lighter fare doesn’t get old upon repeated listens – it just feels like a great, dramatic movement. Here’s hoping Gloeckner takes that into account when she begins writing a follow-up for Vine.
(Spinning Head Records)
The Vine LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from Jen Gloeckner’s online store: www.jengloeckner.com.