Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher
Jen Cloher became a new artist in 2013 when she released In Blood Memory. It was loose and confident, it was dark and personal, it was nothing like her past two records but it sounded like she was finally being herself.
Four years on and things have changed. Cloher is more than ever considered a music industry arbiter thanks to her tireless work in supporting grassroots musicians. And there’s the little matter of her life partner and band member Courtney Barnett becoming the biggest artist in the country and one of the world’s biggest indie rock stars.
We learn a lot about Jen Cloher’s fourth album before hitting play. The name of the record is her name. The front cover is an intimate picture of her, on her bed, naked, playing guitar. Before she sings a word, she tells us this is a raw expression of who Jen Cloher is right now. What she likes, what pisses her off and, yes, what life is like with a famous partner.
We’ve written about the brutal honesty in ‘Forgot Myself’, which opens the album. That frankness carries through the rest of the album.
The cruisy Velvets-esque groove of ‘Analysis Paralysis’ is a remarkable match for the wry, snarling, often downright pissed off observations she makes about all the talk and lack of action of so-called activists in the digital age.
They’re ‘Full of good intentions but never any action’, while, on the other side of the fence, those opposing same-sex marriage are ‘Born into hate, brought up to despise, Frightened of a world that’s left them behind’. Barnett's warped, angular, snaking guitar solo is a dizzying highlight, not just of the song, but of the entire record.
Rather than just exploring the emotional woe that comes with being away from her famous partner, Cloher is just as open about the things that aren't so awful.
‘Sensory Memory’ is a stark portrayal of her relationship that's powerful in its simplicity. She doesn't join her partner on the road, because the road sucks. Besides, she doesn't mind being alone and doesn't even miss her that much anyway. Of course, it's nice when she's home.
'Shoegazers' is a stark snapshot of a little piece of the music industry Cloher has experienced recently. A song that will no doubt provide great comfort to the many artists who look up to her. Success is slippery, critics are pussies who wanna look cool, fame can be fleeting.
Parts of the record are also a treasure hunt for music nerds. There’s a strong hat tip to Kim Gordon in 'Kinda Biblical'. ‘Great Australian Bite’ is a tribute to artists like her partner and herself and the great Australian musicians whose path they are following. The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, Archie Roach.
The Dirty Three should pay Cloher to use ‘Loose Magic’ as their bio from now on. It’s the best summary of the elation and devastation one will experience when they give themselves over to that band’s music.
Simply, ‘Regional Echo’ is her best pop song yet, with a chorus that will make your heart break.
These are just a few of the vignettes that, when collected, give us an intimate snapshot of who Jen Cloher is in 2017.
In its most personal moments, this album feels like a way for Cloher to own her narrative. In a world of insidious, gossipy media that encourages its audience to jump to conclusions, it's a powerful tool.
I’ve read many claim Cloher has hit a peak with this album. I’m not so sure. Jen Cloher is her best album so far, but when it comes time to follow it up, she’ll no doubt be a different woman, with different experiences and different points of view. And she’ll probably share them with us wholeheartedly and the experience will be enriching, heartbreaking, funny and wonderful to listen to, all in completely different ways.