For the record, I had never heard of Jen Gloeckner before 4 months ago, when I received an email, asking me to review her new album VINE. They described it as “hypnotically captivating, and spellbinding music”, and compared it to Twin Peaks, so was intrigued. Plus, there was a song called Ginger Ale!
My first reaction when I found an unsolicited email in my inbox, asking me to review an album by an artist I had never heard of was flattery. I was amazed and thrilled that, whoever this was, like what I did enough that they thought I should review their work. As time when on though I was a bit hesitant, especially since VINE seemed to be getting a fair amount of positive press already. Additionally, this request for review came at a pretty hectic time, as I was already in the middle of reviewing two other albums: Sumo Cyco’s Opus Mar and Paramore’s After Laughter. Luckily, the predicted delay wasn’t a problem for them, so I got onto this review as soon as I could.
One of the most curious parts of my email exchange leading up to my review, was when I asked how they had come up with me as a candidate to review VINE. They mentioned that they had found me through my review of Garbage’s Strange Little Birds. I didn’t think much of it at the time, except that it was a surprise to me that, out of all my reviews they would have been endeared to me by one where I was as scathing as that. But it did make some sense in the end.
Because I’d never heard of Jen Gloeckner before, I couldn’t do what I usually do in my other album reviews, where I list songs each track reminded me of from the artist’s previous albums. However, I’ve tried to still do this with whatever songs came to mind. I’ve also given each track a rank on this album, as well as a comment. Plus, there’s an overview of the album as a whole at the bottom.
Reminds me of: Imogen Heap – Lifeline [Sparks]
Rank on this album: 8
Vine sounds like the opening theme to a spooky TV show. There’s a forlorn quality to vocals, laid over a soft, curious piano riff. These elements, together with reoccurring scraping, clinking chain noises, fill the track with intrigue and set the tone clearly for the ensuing album.
2. Firefly (War Dance)
Reminds me of: Half Life 2 OST
Rank on this album: 11
An instrumental track, Firefly (War Dance) is well described by that title. The percussion and the throb of the bass give the song a war-like march or chant feeling. Wordless voices, guitars, synths and reverb effects all mix together in an ebb and flow, mimicking the effect of a fly or a swarm of insects circling your head.
Reminds me of: Leah – Calling [The World Ends With You OST]
Rank on this album: 2
Breathe opens with breathy vocalisations that switch left and right, as if to test your speakers. The vocals are simple and clear, with an echo-y reverb that gives the song a mystical, molasses-like feel. These vocals stuck in my head like honey, and I found myself humming the tune throughout the day. The track switches to an early bridge, which moves towards a Middle Eastern sound, with a crazy electric violin solo. The track doesn’t really follow expected verse-chorus structure, so after the bridge, it seems to start again from the chorus-like verse until it loops out.
4. Ginger Ale
Reminds me of: Megan Washington – Yellow & Blue [There There]
Rank on this album: 6
Ginger Ale alternates between calm, serene sections dominated by overlapping voices singing in a round-robin-style echo with call-and-response-like emphasis, and instrumental sections dominated by a marching beat with a little syncopation. A deep, almost horn-like cello plays the song out.
5. The Last Thought
Reminds me of: Clare Bowditch and the Feeding Set – Between the Tea and the Toast [The Moon Looked On], Clare Bowditch and the Feeding Set – Starry Picking Night [What Was Left]
Rank on this album: 9
The Last Thought is a romantic, dreamy tune with an oriental flavour, driven forwards by a low, slow swing. The chorus is surrounded by a bundle of catchy “la la”s.
6. Blowing Through
Reminds me of: Paula Carino – First Come the Joggers [Aquacade], Olympia – Honey [Self Talk]
Rank on this album: 5
Blowing Through sort of feels like a really slow surf rock song, crossed with a blues ballad, as a soulful guitar carries the melody. A 60s-style flute flutter through every now and then, to add to the dreaminess of it all, and cello fills out the sound.
7. Counting Sheep
Reminds me of: Chromatics – Shadow [Twin Peaks (Music From The Limited Event Series)]
Rank on this album: 10
I nearly fell asleep listening to Counting Sheep. Its plodding pace, romantic lyrics and deep instrumentation puts me into a drowsy trance. Every note drips with reverberations that seem to vibrate through your whole head. The cello solo that forms the bridge echoes the main melody.
Reminds me of: Garbage – Magnetized [Strange Little Birds]
Rank on this album: 1
Prayers caught my attention immediately as it opens with a mechanical, buzzing effects. This transitions to a more melodious sound, that forms a fun syncopated rhythm, by rapidly swapping between two industrial-like sound effects. As the verse kicks in, the vibe changes, but even the gravelly nature of the vocals seem to pick up on what has been laid out before it, and comes back around near the chorus. From here, more and more musical elements are layered on until a light drum break kicks in to close the song with a fade out.
Reminds me of: Paramore – Future [Paramore], Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Despair [Mosquito]
Rank on this album: 7
Colors is a heavily rhythmic, acoustic-feeling song, with emotive vocals and many layers of piano, guitar and percussion. Echo effects are used sparingly to give vocals and some instruments more body and ambience.
10. Row With The Flow
Reminds me of: Kate Nash – The Lion, The Devil & The Spider [Merry Happy]
Rank on this album: 3
Row With The Flow* is characterised by the choral layering of voices, each distinct, ranging from very deep and devilish to the high and sweet, to the solemn and gravelly. Initially I didn’t realise it, but these many voices are actually other artists (I’ve also never heard of): Angela Mattson, and Henry Padovani. This mixture of voices, along with the twang of a cowboy-like guitar, gives the song a sense of menace and melody, perfectly suited to an episode of Twin Peaks, especially the recent continuation season.
Reminds me of: Garbage – Sugar [We Are Not Your Kind Of People]
Rank on this album: 4
Even though some of the lyrics are hard to decipher, Sold is catchy enough that the chorus got stuck in my head. The gravelly, breathy voice, atmospheric percussion and bright guitar riffs combine for one of the sunnier sounding tracks on this album, although I don’t think this is reflected in the lyrics.
After listening through VINE a few times, I started to understand why I had been asked to review it. While not a pair you would normally compare, there were a number of similarities between Garbage’s Strange Little Birds and this album. Imagine, if you’d like, Strange Little Birds with all of the rock elements removed, and all the atmospheric elements turned up to 11 and stretched to their limit. That would put you somewhere in the realm of VINE. As you may recall, I didn’t love a lot of those experimental effects when Garbage used them, so it’s kind of weird to be reviewing an album that is so heavy with them.
That said, within this context, not only did those elements fit in better, but I even enjoyed them most of the time. This is because they are an essential element of the type of sound Jen Gloeckner is going for here. Her music, on this album at least, is heavily atmospheric and somewhat surreal. I believe it’s what could be described as ambient pop or dream pop. As someone who hasn’t heard very much of this type of music, it’s hard to describe. Throughout my listening, various sections bought different other artists to mind: Garbage and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for their intensity and varied musical elements over the years, Nerina Pallot and Metric for their wistful yet abstract lyricism, and Imogen Heap for her proclivity for experimental sounds.
That’s not to say that VINE is monotonal; far from it. Every track has so many musical sources to it: from guitars and vocals, to strings and keys, to the echo and reverb effects. Each time a new element is introduced, it just adds a new layer to the rich tapestry of sound that forms each song. Some moments can seem busy and crowded with different components, all busting to be heard. These moments give the songs are unique intensity that is managed well, and feels quite natural as none of these sounds come out of nowhere. They build up over the course of the track, and layer on to a fever pitch.
Not only are the songs filled with many and varied elements, but the album as a whole covers a variety of forms and moods. Sweet to seductive, melancholy to malice, playful to powerful, it seems to cover it all. Listening to VINE while going about my daily life made me feel like I was living in an episode of the new Twin Peaks. It’s got the suspensefulness, the sense of unease and unpredictability. It got the intensity, like there’s some unseen force lurking around any corner. It’s got the hard to interpret lyrics, that left me questioning their meaning. I picked up on a few that had romantic inclinations, but others were more abstract. That may not be something you want to go through every day, but it was an interesting experience.
And that’s how I would basically summarise VINE as a whole. While it’s not the type of music I would want to be listening to every day, it adds its own spice to my overall collection, and was a unique, enjoyable album to hear. If you’re more into this kind of music than I am, it may be something you really love, so you may have to just check it out for yourself.
RATING: 7/10 – ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
But you don’t have to take my word for it…Listen to the album for yourself, and make up your own mind. Then you can let me know what you think of Jen Gloeckner’s VINE.
So, are you a fan of Jen Gloeckner? What’s your favourite songs of hers? Have you heard VINE? What do you think? Did it live up to your expectations? Have I said anything you disagree with? Tell me & everyone else who passes through here what you think in the comment below.
To Infinity and Beyond,