BEST OF 2017: 15. Jen Cloher ‘Jen Cloher’

There are a couple of lines in Thomas Hardy’s rather magical poem ‘Neutral Tones’ – “the smile on your mouth was the deadest thing, alive enough to have strength to die” – that are wonderfully evocative and utterly, utterly crushing. Curiously, they come to mind when trying to adequately describe the almost grudging momentum of some of the songs on this gloriously raw self-titled album. The fact that co-producer Greg Walker actually added elements designed to make things sound a little askew and off-kilter is fascinating and it certainly contributes to the woozy wonderland at the heart of this record.

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Opener ‘Forgot Myself’ just about holds itself vertical for its duration, while ’Analysis Paralysis’ possesses the sort of chugging rhythm that sounds like it is occurring infinitely in the universe and we’re just tuning in for the best part of seven minutes. Intriguingly, this is one of those rare albums where the artist is emphatic about promos being accompanied by lyrics. Normally, you’re lucky if you get a stream that actually plays the songs in full multiple times, occasionally garnished by a puff-piece side of A4 with an incorrectly apostrophised ‘its’ and hyperbole that makes your soul itch. To uncover an artist who wants to remind you to focus on the words to this extent is a joy. ‘Sensory Memory’ kicks of with an impressive encapsulation of predictive aching: “I start missing you / Days before you leave / I guess it’s a kind of sensory memory / Deep below the conscious.” ‘Loose Magic’, meanwhile, tells the story of the members of Dirty Three via a performance of their 1996 track, ‘Sue’s Last Ride’. They’ve re-worked it with Beyonce for the Christmas market.

Cloher’s wife, Courtney Barnett, delivers some distinctive guitar playing across the record and anyone who found plenty to love in 2015’s ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit’ will feel fairly at home. The Graham Coxon agit-pop is dialled back a little, by comparison, and there’s plenty of space. It’s an instantly captivating record thanks to its delivery, but it really gets under your skin over time. ‘Waiting In The Wings’ is a late album highlight, Cloher’s voice ascending beyond normally territory to implore us “to be kind, truly kind, is radical.” Be kind to yourself and pick up this wonderful record.

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