What does it sound like?:
Cassandra Jenkins is a New York songwriter. My introduction to her was the third song here, released in the early days of the year as what passes for a single these days. “Hard Drive” is a tour de force, a spoken word account of meetings with various people – a security guard, a bookmaker, a driving instructor – that builds and builds on waves of glittering guitar, piano and drum loops. It’s a stunning song, one that will have you playing it again as soon as it finishes. And the good news is the rest of the album is pretty special too.
The sound takes in traditional singer songwriter, folk, jazz, even some ambient. The palette throughout is restrained with hushed saxophone, gently rolling drums, keys for melody and atmosphere, and some lovely fluid, occasionally fuzzy, guitar, alongside strings and woodwind where they are needed. Across the record they coalesce into terrific arrangements, ornate yet direct, intimate but outward looking. The whole thing sounds luminous and honeyed, a triumph of production.
The lyrics are snapshots and stories from everyday lives, part narrative, part poetry. It makes sense that Jenkins has supported Craig Finn from the Hold Steady, although the sound here couldn’t be more different from his main band. The words are held together with a sense of awe, a recognition of the extraordinary wonder and range of life, from the glories of nature to deep grief (Jenkins was David Berman’s band for his Purple Mountains tour, which was derailed by his suicide on its eve – “Ambiguous Norway” here is about that “Farewell, Purple Mountains / I see a range of cumulus / the majesties transmutation / distant, ambiguous / The skies replace the land with air / no matter where I go / you’re gone, you’re everywhere.”).
It all comes together on the closing The Ramble, seven minutes of shimmering keyboards, throaty sax and field recordings of birds and insects. There are no words, but it doesn’t need them to reach the transcendence the record has been building towards for the past half hour. Close your eyes and you can see bullrushes against a golden late summer sky, and feel a lover’s head on your shoulder and the sun on your face.
Think we might have an AOTY contender here, folks. At any rate, it’s hard to imagine there’ll be a better ambient indie folk-jazz set released in the coming months.
What does it all *mean*?
what does anything mean?
Goes well with…
a good set of headphones
Might suit people who like…
Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Bridgers, War On Drugs, Cowboy Junkies, John Martyn