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Album Review: Jen Cloher ‘Jen Cloher’

Jen Cloher’s latest album is a revealing and personal peak into the Melbourne singer/songwriter’s life, and relationship with partner, Courtney Barnett. The self-titled record is Cloher’s fourth, and arguably her most confident, if not her most immediate.

“You’d been gone so long you could have been dead,” opens the first track Forgot Myself, quickly establishing the themes and direction of the rest of the album. Musically, the track is restrained without fading into the background; managing to complement Cloher’s voice while maintaining its own identity. The entire album was recorded, “live in one room with minimal overdubs,” which offers a certain energy and warmth that is perfect for the songs. Meanwhile, Cloher half sings, half murmurs a stream of consciousness about the long distance relationship necessary when Barnett is, “riding round the world,” and the loneliness inherent in that. It is the perfect opening song for the album.

On this record, Cloher is at her best when she is singing about what she knows well: Australia, music, and her relationship. Regional Echo is a look at and critique of small towns and the mentality of those living there. “I’m never gonna say, never gonna do, never gonna be anything more than what’s expected of me,” she sings, as the music swells behind her. Similarly, Great Australian Bite takes a look at the, “tyranny of distance,” suffered by Australian artists, “signing shitty deals just to make it work.” This song stands out as one of the few times Cloher sounds truly passionate about what she’s singing, a fact further enhanced by the fellow band chanting the chorus along with her, as the music builds chaotically.

In stark contrast, Analysis Paralysis signals a breakdown in both Cloher’s ‘stream of consciousness’ lyrics, and the band’s musicality. The already unnecessarily long track, spends its first minute occupied by the lyrics, “Paralysed in paradise.” As the band meanders on, the lyrics take a detour through Australian politics, decrying the, “Hansonites,” and their, “plebiscite to decide if I can have a wife.” As sympathetic as I’m sure most listeners would be with Cloher’s frustration, the lyrics are lazy, and the delivery lacks passion beyond a hint of a sneer. The band fight to save the song with some messy dissonance to compliment the agitation being sung about, though this fades to a whimper and leaves you wishing they had conjured up just a little more life to inject into the track.

Unfortunately this isn’t the only misstep on the album. Loose Magic is a tribute to the Dirty Three that, despite the killer outro, feels out of place and lingers a little too long. Meanwhile, the track Strong Woman, while managing to maintain its upbeat energy, features jarring accompanying vocals and painfully obvious lyrics. It may be less than three minutes long, but it feels closer to the seven minutes of Analysis Paralysis.

These criticisms, however, are relatively minor ones, and stand out primarily because of the quality of the rest of the record. For the most part, this album features personal and heartfelt songs with a band that knows when to hold back, and when to take over, to bring the songs to life. Kinda Biblical is a great example of a song standing out despite its lack lustre lyrics, thanks largely to the supporting band and backing vocals. The closing song, Dark Art, finds Cloher alone with an acoustic guitar, and brings home just how personal this record is. The quality song writing truly highlighting her ability to say in 50 words what would take others 500.

On the whole, Jen Cloher’s album is a journey through the artist’s mind and life. It’s not as exciting or clever as its predecessor, but Cloher’s artistry coupled with the talent of her band means that what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up for in intimacy and honesty.

Album Rating: 3.5

Jen Cloher Live Dates

The Foundry, Brisbane
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Mojo’s Bar, Fremantle
Howler, Melbourne
Jive Bar, Adelaide
Howler, Melbourne