Album review: Jen Gloeckner – ‘Vine’
Vine is the seven-year brain child of Jen Gloeckner, an incredible musician from Dubuque, located on Iowa’s Mississippi River. Gloeckner has become renowned for her soulful, ambient Americana folk music in the indie scene, a sound that has led to several heavily acclaimed, soul-touching records. These records are detailed, patient slow-burners, and in a world where we hear consistent banger style songs in the mainstream that serve to give the listener instant musical gratification, these records feel like a fine wine: detailed and complicated musical experiences that get better with more listens.
Her debut record, 2004’s Miles Away showed a deeply considered and detailed song writing style with an outstanding use of acoustic instrumentation. This was followed up by 2010’s Mouth of Mars, a record which saw Gloeckner reinvent herself and show a more matured approach, both in her song writing and in the usage of instrumentation.
Vine however sees Gloeckner challenge herself even more, pushing into a more electronica based direction. But that does not mean that Vine signals a change towards a more commercially based sound. Far from it. Instead, this is Gloeckner as she has always been, completly reinventing herself and pushing her music in a more subtle, atmospheric direction.
The record opens strongly with the title track, which really serves as a taster for the record. This isn’t a commercial banger, but a record for a more patient listener. However, it isn’t as though Gloeckner has abandoned her roots either. Guitar, piano, strings sections and percussion are all still very important to Vine, and are given plenty of time to shine. A notable early example is the instrumental ‘Firefly (War Dance)’ which has some amazing whistle calls that add to the ambiance in a way that you feel like you are walking through a forest.
Much of the notable instrumental shifts in the record come off the back of the many great collaborators Gloeckner has brought onboard. These include John Ashton from the Psychedelic Furs, Angela Mattson from In The Valley Below, and Henry Padovani, original guitarist and founding member of The Police. These additions bring a new flavour that complement Gloeckner’s style very nicely.
No better an example do we see of this than middle section of the record. One of the best tracks is Ginger Ale with it’s gorgeous song structure and droning synthesisers that make you feel like you are flying through the sky. Then there are the tracks The Last Thought and Blowing Through which both are some of the more acoustic cuts from the record, with the former having a gorgeous bass line and an amazing crescendo in Gloeckner’s lyrics, and the latter having an playful flute solo and subtle guitar that seems almost reminiscent of Radiohead’s most recent record.
However, Gloeckner comes into her own with Counting Sheep, with its playful piano and electronic beat. Gloeckner’s vocals quiver as she sings about only being able to sleep when she has her special someone beside her. Similarly, the longest cut on the album, Prayers has an almost Pink Floyd-like vibe to it, which really compliments the tracks before it.
If there is any complaint to be had about Vine, it is that, with it being such a patient and considered listen, that some of the tracks take their time to the point where they feel directionless. This is particularly notable on the tracks Row with the Flow and Breathe. While these tracks still have nice qualities to them, and sound stellar, they do feel like they overstay their welcome somewhat.
Regardless, even the slightly weaker tracks still sound incredible, off the back of the amazing instrumentation that feels almost cinematic. It taps into an ethereal place that the listener can relate to, which means that for those willing to sit down and take the time to listen to it, it will make for a really emotionally charged experience.
This is not a record that you would expect to see climbing up the charts, nor appealing to any agenda or commercial sound. It feels like an easy flowing river, meandering its way through a landscape, coming across obstacles and overcoming them. It is a record filled with sorrow, redemption and beauty, and a patient listener will find plenty of reward in it. Gloeckner has presented a haunting, hypnotic, beautiful musicscape for us to escape to, and what a place it is.