Jennifer O’Connor Is Back with Her Best Album

by delarue

Is Jennifer O’Connor’s new album I Want What You Want her big comeback? Not really. She’s always been good. She burst into prominence in the late zeros, a purist rock tunesmith with understatedly strong guitar chops and a down-to-earth vocal style that won her all kinds of acclaim from the cognoscenti. By 2009, she’d parted ways with her record label (how many times have we heard that, huh?). Broke and burnt out from constant touring, she contemplated giving up music altogether when she wasn’t impresario-ing the occasional songwriter salon at Rock Shop in Brooklyn, or building her own label, Kiam Records. And occasionally, she’d write a song. This album is the result, offering guarded hope against a dreadful alternative which is usually left unspoken, to powerful effect. The raw, gently resolute intensity of O’Connor’s voice is the perfect vehicle for the portraits of emotional depletion here – a lot of these songs are absolutely devastating. Consider this album a more rock-oriented, teens counterpart to Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

What hope there is here takes awhile to emerge. “So many other ways – we can change,” O’Connor offers, on the simple guitar-and-voice vignette that opens the album, before plunging into the abyss with the hypnotic post-Velvets stomp of Already Gone. It’s a haunting portrait of how a scene that once seemed so promising will vanish before your eyes, leaving nothing to replace it, and as usual O’Connor doesn’t waste a note (bassist Michael Brodlieb’s hook on the way out of the chorus is absolutely, simply spot-on). Clinical depression moves in to take centerstage on the catchy but elegiac 7/12/09:

Every minute you’re alone
In every place you’ve ever known
With every song you set the tone
For loneliness

She moves back toward a middle-period Jesus & Mary Chain ambience, and brings up the energy level, with You Come Around, an exasperated kiss-off  to someone who basically shows up exactly when expected, because, as O’Connor puts it, that’s what they do. It’s their nature – and people like are usually psychic vampires, and she wants nothing more to do with this one. She follows it with the understatedly aching, wistful country song Hidden Hill, a cruelly vivid wintertime tableau with “Nashville guitar” from Tim Foljahn.

The trajectory goes up from there, from the stately Swan Song (For Bella), with Kirsten McCord on cello; the brisk, new wave beat of Running Start; the catchy, mantra-like folk-rocker How I Will Get By; and the lushly gorgeous Good Intentions, Mascott’s Kendall Meade’s precise keys mingling with Versus’ Richard Balayut’s soaring, anthemic guitar leads. Change Your Life is a dirge, a funeral procession for a previous existence – but also an opening theme for a new one. O’Connor finally flexes her guitar muscles on the roaring, noisy No One Knows Anything, then switches to electric piano for the final two tracks, a bouncy reprise of the opening track (with crystalline backing vocals from Amy Bezunartea), and finally Your Guitar, a quietly triumphant account of a rocker who’s decided to walk away from it all, sick of the “unbearable trends, the means and the ends, neither of which you can defend.” The whole album is streaming at soundcloud; the limited edition cd version of the album also includes high-quality downloads of all the songs from bandcamp.