Any return to the public with a new project after a long period of time can be a daunting and nerve-racking thing to go through — recorded in her bedroom, "VINE" is Jen Gloeckner's third album and also her first in several years. However, after exploring her earlier material, I make it a firm point to state that Gloeckner has only improved over time, and what a delicious indulgence this album is as a result.
"VINE" is striking yet contemplative. It is harrowingly vibrant yet compassionately subdued. There's a duality to this record that I haven't come across very often, similar to the approach taken with "Silver Eye" by Goldfrapp. But rather than cleanly separate the various atmospheres presented like on that record, "VINE" indulges in the art of distortion, which can be just as powerful as precision-cut cleanliness if not more so.
There's a consistent crackling energy present throughout this 11-track release, and quite honestly it is a coat of many colours. You'd be hard-pressed to not find at least one track that doesn't speak to you. Touches of modern sheen and emotional psychedelia collide in a thunderclap of sonic depth that reinvigorates the senses and hooks you in. It piques your curiosity enough to leave you yearning for more, and before long you'll have gone through each track without even noticing. Despite the vast differences between tracks in terms of atmosphere and emotional conveyance, I find that "VINE" flows much more graciously than some albums that take similar approaches.
Opener "Vine" is whimsical yet dystopian. It's a stunning concoction of sounds that continues to evolve as it goes on. In a way, the title track really does encapsulate the evolutionary theme of this record, and I can't praise it enough for doing exactly what an opener should do. Unlike on so many other records, "Vine" sets the stage for the ever-changing show you're about to experience.
A definite standout is the next track, "Firefly (War Dance)". It shimmies along into a building drumbeat, tribal in nature yet future-facing in execution, and backed with a tinge of desert rock influence. It produces a deep, expansive atmosphere that dares to be different, and I honestly can't get enough of it.
Other standouts include "Blowing Through", with it's torch-song demeanour that just sucks you right in to a time of decadence and wonder, and the upbeat "Prayers", reminiscent of that elusive track from the early 2000s which really spoke to you. The latter provides such a thoughtful nostalgia trip and really takes me back, but at the same time it feels like a song that has grown with me over the years despite being released just this year. Gloeckner's vocal range serves as a hugely definitive standout of this song, steeped in contemplation and presence.
"Sold" is another gem here, rumbling through and hooking you along with delicate ivory tickings, electro-layered synths, and soaring vocals that dance like wind over the hills. Also, be sure to consult "Counting Sheep" for a delicious indulgence in dreamlike ethereality, akin to an Enya recording tinged with gentle drumbeats and floaty sonic accents.
The absolute must-listen track on "VINE" in my opinion, however, has to be "Colors". It is the most raw, organic, and utterly transcendent piece on the entire record, without question. Gloeckner's lower register is at the forefront, caressed by luscious string arrangements and vocal layering. It's simple, powerful, and unlike anything else on the album. To provide an alternative to the electronic sensations present on most other tracks is brave, but to outperform the stunning remainder of "VINE" tenfold with a simpler arrangement?
That's what I like to call true artistry.
I've sat and meditated on this record's voice and sonic atmosphere for some time now, and I feel more than comfortable in stating that it is truly evolutionary in nature. Not only does it grow on you, it leaves you craving more. To be able to achieve such a thing is rare, and even my favourite artists don't often reach such peaks in their careers. "VINE" is most definitely an evolution of Jen Gloeckner's career as an artist, but it elevates her artistry into the future. It will only be a matter of time before this album is more widely known, and I unbiasedly wish to state right now that it is a pleasure and utter delight to have such a record in my collection. Bravo. No music is ever perfect, and this record is no different — there are tracks that don't speak to me as much — but someone else out there most definitely will love them, and that makes "VINE" a beautiful thing. It evolves according to what people glean from it, and modern plastic pop music can't even consider to come close to achieving such a result.
Review materials graciously provided by Spinning Head Records.