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Jennifer Gentle - The Midnight Room

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Artist: Jennifer Gentle

Album: The Midnight Room

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jun. 29, 2007

If Jennifer Gentle’s last album (2005’s Valende) was an acid trip on a sunny day through fields of multicolored lollipops and all the standard happy psychedelic imagery, their follow up is a trip of a much different, darker sort. This Italian group has shed members with every release, so now it is essentially the project of Marco Fasolo alone. The change is instantly noticeable in the album’s sound, which is much starker than its predecessor. Songs are now built around sharp, trebly guitar licks reminiscent of Mark Ribot’s work for Tom Waits, and Fasolo’s voice which leaves behind its Syd Barrett-esque drawl to match the biting quality of the guitar.

Barrett remains Fasolo’s main inspiration, but his use of Barrett has transcended mere homage to become something more symbolic. The version of Barrett in The Midnight Room has lost his mind, his voice twisted into something demonic, his fragile pop sensibilities overrun by the darkness of an acid trip gone bad. Instead of a playful fascination with the world, Fasolo is left watching walls bleed and trees melt, and reacts with requisite horror and revulsion. Even the unabashed pop songs, “Take My Hand” and “Electric Princess,” are overshadowed: “Electric Princess” by haunted vocal harmonies, screeching laughs, and minor-key piano runs, and “Take My Hand” by the striking of a single hollow drum. Fasolo also seems to be intrigued with the Baroque, particularly in its darker, more haunted form. Baroque flourishes occur throughout, from the broken, harpsichord-like guitar chords and the Picardy Thirds (a minor-key progression that ends on a major chord) of “The Ferryman” and the chord progressions of “It’s in Her Eyes,” to the kazoo fanfare of “Mercury Blood” and the melodies in “Twin Ghosts.” Occasionally this imagery goes a bit too far, though, as in “Granny’s House,” whose pounding drums, strummed pianos and distant music box sound either like third rate film music or an attempt to be Scott Walker, neither of which is Fasolo’s strength. Such weaker moments here are balanced out by a tight sense of pacing, with every song going on for just about as long as it needs to and progressing logically from one song to the next.

You’ll probably notice that I haven’t addressed the lyrics here. That’s because they’re mostly secondary, largely buried in the mix and indecipherable. Those lyrics that can be heard add little meaning to the songs, which achieve their affect through other means, with Fasolo’s voice as just another (highly distinctive) timbre.

The Midnight Room is everything that Valende isn’t, making them a perfect paired set. And it rewards repeated listens with enough production depth to always find new, hidden sounds. But much like with its predecessor, I’m sometimes left wondering if there’s anything in the album beyond mood. Fasolo uses all the typical signifiers of ghosts and goblins, Halloween and horror movies, but he doesn’t really do much with them (if my descriptions and metaphors above seem stock, it is to match that quality of the record). There seems to be little left to chance in the songwriting. Every moment is perfectly constructed to gradually ratchet up a sense of paranoia, and I suspect that’s all that is going on here. However, the only way to add that kind of depth would be to go into the psychological territory of Scott Walker or Nico or Diamanda Galas, all of which seem just a bit too frightening for Fasolo. Darkness for him is a stopping off point, something to be described and evoked but not actually explored.

By Dan Ruccia

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