Jen Gloeckner – “Vine”


jenJen Gloeckner - VINE - Cover art

It seems like I end up reviewing an album like this about once per year.  Last year, it was Isgaard, and the year before that it was Susanne Sundfør.  Maybe it’s the prog overload feeling I get this time of year, or maybe it’s not.  I have no idea.  Either way, I saw the new album from Jen Gloeckner show up in my inbox, and I knew right away that it would be different than what I normally review, but I really wanted to review it.  Her new album “Vine” is a fantastic piece of work, and it’s a welcome change of pace for me, too.

I went into this album expecting a pop album with some electronic and progressive influences.  Jen’s music, however, is unlike anything I’ve really ever heard.  Obviously, I’ve heard music that is similar in some ways, but Jen’s style is her own and it’s honestly difficult to describe at points.  Her music is simultaneously ethereal and earthy; electronic and organic.  You will hear all sorts of vocal, electronic accents, and world music; but you will also hear Jen’s unique voice breaking through the swirling sounds and the heavy production mist.  Additionally, Jen herself plays keys and the dulcimer, as well as handling the programming.  Her friend Shawn Healy handles the electric guitar that comes in sometimes, as well as the EBow.

She obviously has lots of pop influence here, but she uses it as a tool, almost like post-pop, if that were a thing.  So, there are pop influences here, but they are jumbled and rearranged into something that is not pop.  So, basically, as post-rock is to rock or post-metal is to metal, Jen Gloeckner is to pop.  Overall, Jen’s music is usually slow-paced and pulsating, with wisps of vocals and melancholy inflections; and her goal seems to be to mess with your senses.  That essentially means that her style is often quite strange, and it honestly is quite challenging at times.  I love that.

Jen’s compositions show something that I feel many prog bands could learn: subtlety.  Instead of slamming us in the face with bass and plastic production, this album teases us with sublime subtlety in everything from her haunting vocals to the electronic accents to the world music influences.  A little distorted guitar here, a little programming there: The whole album is rife with fleeting sounds and atmospheric touches, creating a sort of world that you fully enter as you progress through the music.  The album isn’t all that long, so it’s a concise and enjoyable trip into a world you’ve never heard that will raise the hairs on your arms.

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Quite honestly, the first song is the title track, and it went a bit too modern pop for me at first.  It’s a good song, though.  However, this track is immediately followed by “Firefly (War Dance)”, an absolutely stunning instrumental that feels like a whirlwind of accents and sounds.  It is like you are dancing in the flickering firelight with thousands of whirling ashes and lights spinning around you.  It has this intoxicating feel to it, and that feeling is pretty common throughout the album.

Right after “Firefly”, she nails it again with “Breathe”, a track that is again a dense cloud of sounds, but also features a fantastic chorus that cuts through the mist like a hot knife through butter.  She succeeds time and again here with other tracks like “Ginger Ale” with its melancholy sweetness; and “The Last Thought” with its pulsating rhythm, haunting vocals, and strong Asian flavor.  Other favorite tracks are “Blowing Through” which sounds just like you’d expect, and the final track “Sold” for its evanescent style.

Overall, the whole album is strong and flows with lavish production and evident passion and focus.  Jen’s vocals are always haunting and on point, and she even has a quite unique tone to her voice that separates her from the pack.  On top of that, she isn’t afraid to offer some rather strange inflections or harmonies, and it’s exactly that sort of thing eccentricity that sold me on this album.  “Vine” is like a fluid, gracefully painted canvas of muted colors and subtle touches, and it will tease you to if you give it a chance.

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