Friday, July 06, 2007

Jennifer Gentle - The Midnight Room

Jennifer Gentle
The Midnight Room (Sub Pop, 2007)
Grade: A-

Download: Jennifer Gentle - "Telephone Ringing"
Download: Jennifer Gentle - "Electric Princess"
Download: Jennifer Gentle - "Take My Hand"
Download: Jennifer Gentle - "The Ferryman"

As an album, The Midnight Room is like experiencing the world's strangest, creepiest, carnival ride or hall of mirrors. Jennifer Gentle merge the psychedelic sounds of late-period Beatles with the psychedelic sounds of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Needless to say, there's some trippy, dementedly melodic, music on this record.

The trippyness of the album derives more from the melodies themselves, and less so from atmospherics or production values (though, like Frank Zappa, Jennifer Gentle's Marco Fasolo likes to speed up his vocals to the point where it sounds like he took a big hit of helium before he started singing). Interestingly enough, The Midnight Room starts off with one of its most ambient tracks, "Twin Ghosts." The ringing organ plays an spooky arpeggio and creates a mood not unlike Liars' Drum's Not Dead. But instead of a hailstorm of pants-shittening drums, two angelic voices sing disjointed harmonies over bells and guitar. The effect is simultaneously soothing and disturbing.

From there, the record segues into “Telephone Ringing,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly ironic twist at the end of a Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode. In fact, the entire record is filled with musical moments like that, whether its the whimsical, Beatles-esque "Take My Hand" and "Electric Princess" or the bouncing, minor-key, hallucinatory pop of "The Ferryman." I can't tell you how much fun it is pause The Midnight Room at any random moment and bust out the bad Cryptkeeper puns like "Be careful what you AXE for, BOILS AND GHOULS, because you just might GET IT! Mua HAhahahahahahaha Haaaaaaaaa!"

"Mercury Blood," meanwhile, feels like a church service on a acid trip, while "Quarter to Three" is one of the album's slight missteps, (the other being "Granny's House,"as the song is simply too repetitive to enjoy). A lot of The Midnight Room's songs use similar composition devices, so one might think that all of the songs sound the same. It's certainly something that I had thought upon my second listen. But after repeated listens, the album's initial repetitiveness because an astonishing cohesiveness. This is a record that was made for headphone listening, while on solitary walks in the city late at night. It's an album that definitely rewards the listener that puts a lot of effort into hearing it.

Most strangely, the real reason why I love this album is because listening to it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. That’s an unusual quality to admire in a album, to be sure, but the hypnotic power of Jennifer Gentle’s The Midnight Room is so strong that any reaction other than sheer addiction is next to impossible.

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(Jonathan Graef)

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