I don’t often post contemporary album reviews on the Rumble, but when I get offers of review copies of Jen Gloeckner records on vinyl I must reconsider. If you’re confident enough to splurge for the vinyl shipping costs, this is something that deserves a listen. Now that I’m spinning vinyl, it fits my page’s modus. So let’s continue.
Iowa’s Jen Gloeckner understands something that most artists can’t quite grasp. Pace and patience. Beware the record that opens with its best offering and follows with a steadily declining parade of grandstanders. For whatever reason, album construction hasn’t fully freed the shackles of the listening post. Ahh, yes. Recall the days when a music stores stuck towers or walls of headphones at the front of the store, ensnaring passersby with the allure of fantastic new music? Before the days of Spotify and streaming and unlimited access, listening posts were just about the only way to indiscriminately sample a new album. I also had a love affair with Blockbuster Music, who allowed you to sample any record in the store, but that is a reminiscence for another bl-g post.
Vine opens without fireworks, the album’s titular track lays downtempo groundwork with an electronic landscape. Digital seagulls, a sea breeze, Gloeckner’s sultry vocal bandwidth. It’s a perfect tease, something more than an intro but less than those listening post thumpers that hoped you didn’t listen beyond three songs. Gloeckner brought me back to the late 1990’s when trip-hop, breakbeat, and acid jazz ruled my 25-disc CD changer. We could also discuss the patently absurd “post-trip hop” categorization, but I’ll refrain from that micro-genre nonsense.
Sample Morcheeba’s “Big Calm” for a reminder of what 1998 sounded like:
The music of Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Lamb, and Tricky didn’t disappear; like most other sneakily-influential genre movements it become assimilated into pop music as prominent artists like Madonna, Janet Jackson and U2 claimed it in the name of progress. Radiohead perfected the merger. With the exception of perhaps Massive Attack, original artists slipped further into the underground. Albums like Doprah’s otherworldly Wasting from 2016 prove a receptive audience remains for downtempo music featuring scattered bpms, sampling, electronic layers and ethereal vocals.
On Vine, Gloeckner’s third full-length LP, she severs her already tenuous ties to the traditional singer-songwriter genre. 2010’s Mouth of Mars experimented with jazz and layered production. A standout track on that album, “Trip,” takes on all the elements of trip-hop without the otherworldly sheen that comes part and parcel with the inorganic roots of the electronics and sampling.
But back to pace and patience. Vine fully asserts its on “Firefly (War Dance)” — the trance instrumental second track on the album — by barging through the door with a tribal soundscape that would have slipped nicely into the backdrop Massive Attack’s Blue Lines. It’s not until the following cut, “Breathe,” that Gloeckner drops Vine‘s thesis statement. Muffled female orgasm, uneven drum machine cadence, synth, and droning guitar that tests the shoegaze temperature before scaling back to white noise.
Gloeckner seems less confident in the dream-pop entries “Ginger Ale” and “The Last Thought” that anchor the middle of the record. Amiable confections that fail to rise to the weight or evoke the same emotional resonance. This segment requires some pace and patience from the listener. Vine‘s pendulum begins its return on “Blowing Through,” a loopy woodwind and string-laden waltz that foregrounds some “Enchantment Under the Sea” romanticism.
Vine finishes as strong as it opens. Starting with “Counting Sheep” the second half of the record ebbs and flows, successfully weaving what the press release calls a “Twin Peaks vibe” with ambience, progressive guitar work, electronics, and even the strains of Americana that dominated Gloeckner’s early work. The wonderfully trippy “Prayers” and the AM radio “Sold” stand out as B-side highlights.
Either this is an artist that finally tapped into her wavelength or she’s placed her trust in muse-like producers with clarity of vision. Perhaps both. Producer Brian McTear has worked with Sharon Van Etten, Marissa Nadler and War on Drugs, and a certain relative retrospective throughline can be heard in all of these acts. Contemporary fans will hear Lana Del Rey (with a slightly less bombastic, more controlled vocal range) while others, like me, will be transported back to a time when trip-hop soundtracked our lives.
Perfecting the atmosphere of a record is a tricky thing. Jen Gloeckner may not have quite defibrillated the genre of Mazzy Star, Morcheeba or Lamb on Vine, but she did the next thing. She reminded us that the threads of their music remain vibrant and relevant. She also reminded us that proper pace and patience require attention and that that investment amply rewards.