A pioneer of Melbourne’s music scene and co-founder of Milk! Records, Jen Cloher really needs no introduction. She’s a dynamite songstress and an important figure for women in music. With her new album release, we see her most personal venture yet. But what’s more important here is Cloher’s place in the Australian music scene as a queer artist, especially in a time where queer politics in Australia have been brought to the forefront like never before. As her most personal work of music yet it, it is also her most politically charged, which fittingly correlates with the fact many of the songs are also about her relationship with partner Courtney Barnett.
When it comes to her career, Cloher has always been self-managed and remains an artist independent in her musical process. She runs I Manage My Music, a workshop which aides aspiring musicians in self-management, and has been a frequent addition to The Push’s musical mentoring program where she met partner Barnett. Here we find Cloher resuming her honest approach to her craft, addressing personal issues that take us to a stripped back blueprint of her mind. There are plenty of moments that borderline on the dreamy isolated soundscapes of Grouper and the laidback whispy lyrical pondering of Kim Gordon, except if they were chucked in the back of a ute for a cross country road trip through Australia’s countryside.
Opener ‘Forgot Myself’’s chimes in with Cloher’s spoken word-esque delivery, as the guitar revs up to the stylish hook “Oh god, I forgot myself”. With buzzing guitars and unphased drumming that consequently climaxes when she sings, “I’m driving in my car!” during the final verse. The track talks of Cloher’s internal struggle of high expectations, following the immense success her partner Barnett achieved with 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. She disregards her own achievements in the process, which is now happily a thing of the past. When Barnett exploded on a global scale, there had been little indication to the thoughts and feelings Cloher has had toward the ample success of her long-time girlfriend. During a conference at the International Women’s Day breakfast, Cloher disclosed her experience of how Barnett’s success created an invisibly high bar of expectations for her, leading to constant questioning of her talent and merit, despite already solidifying her status as an established artist.
Following is the eight minute epic ‘Analysis Paralysis’, which is the proud owner of one of 2017’s best lyrical one liners “while the Hansonsites take a plebiscite to decide if I can have a wife,” an obvious stab at the contemporary issues surrounding the same-sex marriage debate. In ‘Strong Woman’, we touch base with Cloher’s account of growing up and her experiences of fitting in, taking on themes of her Catholic education and succumbing to pressures and expectations of how women should be. The tune is also an upbeat detour on the album, working as both an optimistic and mechanical shift in pace.
The most captivating element to this album is in Cloher’s engaging and collected vocal manner. Her voice maintains a firm grip on her words and the unhinged guitars. While sounding detached, she remains latched onto the groove of each track, biting and sharp, which comes together with the careful yet intact strumming, quiet and weaving guitar licks and a steady drum beat. These elements dance together freely, like folks at a low key piss up located somewhere in one Victoria’s most isolated rural hotspots during the peak of summer – full of life yet unfussy and self assured. But while this party ensues, Cloher happily finds herself alone on the swinging chair on the front porch, hanging buoyantly from the wooden poles that stabilise its infrastructure. It is here where she is in a place of familiarity and confidence, while knowing exactly what she wants to do and exactly what she wants to say with this record.
Although comparisons to Barnett and vice versa seem inevitable, it feels dismissive on both ends to compare the two. While the focus on their relationship here is thematically at large, it works as an effective catalyst to emphasise Cloher’s point sprawled across this lyrically powerful collection of tracks. Here she sounds at peace while subtly displeased, her presence and delivery completely her own – smart, laid back and self-assured as hell.