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Cassandra Jenkins

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

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Feb 26, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Cassandra Jenkins’ sophomore album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, is premised on the hopes for a better year ahead and a promise of personal reconstruction. Based on references in the album, presumably that year would have been 2020, in the aftermath of the suicide of David Berman, whose Purple Mountains’ tour brigade she was enlisted for. If 2020 didn’t do many of us much good, it provided time for reflection and a gapped out distance from what came before. And if January 1st has no particular enchantment, or like the chakras referenced on Phenomenal Nature’s central track, “Hard Drive,” the people around Jenkins do hold infinite stores of magic. And actively so. Jenkins’ mom doesn’t worry about her on “New Bikini,” she worries at her. Perry, who appears in “Hard Drive,” taps her shoulder to invoke a new beginning.

The album starts innocuously enough on “Michelangelo” and echoes Jenkins’ Americana tinged debut, 2017’s Play Till You Win. But from here things drift to jazzier and more elevated, but quieter moments. The horns and strings that adorn the balance of the album carry the poise of Van Morrison’s most patient moments. And on the most laid bare of songs, “Ambiguous Norway” and “Hailey,” ebbing synths are called upon to stir up wells of emotions. Not unlike recent work from Sharon Van Etten and Vagabon.

For as much attention as “Hard Drive” is garnering, and rightly so, other songs are just as gently effective. “New Bikini” reveals the aftermath of Berman’s death and friends that can bear Jenkins up with the same viscosity of the sea water that surrounds her. And if “Hard Drive” owes a nod to Laurie Anderson, it’s the inverse of the dread of Anderson’s “we are going down, together… this is gonna be some day.” But the album shines brightest on its three song closing swell and earns its spot next to labelmate Julie Byrne’s infinitely quiet debut. “Ambiguous Norway” may take place where it says it does, but is hardly ambiguous. Jenkins’ reflection of Berman being gone and being everywhere is innately logical. The brief, but prayerful, “Hailey” is reverential, while the subject also provides Jenkins with the promise of the new year. And that Jenkins gives us the reflection of her woodland walk around of “The Ramble,” colored with sounds of garbage trucks, sirens, children, bird song, and the “chk, chk, chk,” of an impact sprinkler, is truly the gift of a safe space. The same that those in Jenkins’ life provided to her.

For all of its brainy machinations, what An Overview on Phenomenal Nature never forgets to do is make a human connection. Jenkins puts herself central to the story and provides the vulnerability to be the patient whose body needs healing hands placed upon it. Laura Marling has called for her own soothing and Morrison for healing “down by the pylons.” On “Hard Drive,” Jenkins is offered that her own way forward be as simple as “one, two, three,” though she knows better. An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is as exposed a testament to brokenness and reassembly as any you are likely to find. Answers may be as far as across the ocean in Norway or just south of the Central Park’s 79th Street Transverse (the setting for “The Ramble”), but most likely will find you wherever you are. (www.cassandrajenkins.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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