Jen Cloher is the fourth album by the Milk Records label co-owner. Her writing here is sharp, profoundly personal, and at times acutely analytical of her relationship and gender.
In ‘Analysis Paralysis’ she sings of being paralysed by the politics and public debate over same-sex marriage in Australia:
While the Hansonites
Take a plebiscite
If I can have a wife
Evocative of an Australian summer, Regional Echo meanders like the Murrumbidgee in contrast to the album’s most rocking track, Strong Woman, which burns with fire and pride. In the latter, Cloher sings of her own growing up and the difficulties she faced, and pays homage to her mother and grandmother as strong role models. So emotionally charged is this song it gave me goosebumps.
The album is seasoned with quite clever references to classic Australian bands and songs. In Great Australian Bite Cloher examines the difficulties faced by Australian musicians due to the isolations of distance and ignorance, and namechecks The Go-Betweens and The Saints, among others. There is also shared joy in the reverential awe Jen holds for The Dirty Three in Loose Magic:
No, nothing could ever feel
Like the first time
Sue’s Last Ride
Messed you up for real
Like partner Courtney Barnett’s take of an Elvis Presley lyric in her song Avant Gardener, and equally without sounding trite, Cloher cuts’n’pastes some Rolling Stones lyrics into Forgot Myself, the current ‘radio song’ of the album.
Cloher’s vocals are at the fore in the quieter, more contemplative moments, while her and Courtney Barnett’s guitars (and also that of Kurt Vile on Loose Magic) play off each other, at times straying in transposition before returning to key. Bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Jen Sholakis provide the skeleton that holds this body together. There are hints of Patti Smith (also namechecked), The Velvet Underground and The Breeders throughout, and enough contrasting of musical light and shade to please any hardened indie fan.
Jen Cloher is a beautiful collection of works, and deserves to sit within the catalogue of classic Australian albums next to The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional, The Cruel Sea’s This Is Not The Way Home, and Magic Dirt’s What Are Rock Stars Doing Today. It’s an absolutely essential album, and one I’ll be listening to right through the coming Australian summer.
Jen Cloher is out now on Milk Records.
Addendum 23 November 2017: I had mistakenly referred to this album as Cloher’s third album and have corrected accordingly.