Voyager by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)

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Album: Voyager

Artist: Jenny Lewis

Year: 2014

Details: 10 songs; 40 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

There are several ways you could come to know Jenny Lewis – her 1980s sitcom roles as a teenager, her band that was (Rilo Kiley), or Jenny Lewis, solo. I discovered Jenny Lewis on a cd that I bought at a Starbucks. It was a compilation of songs put together by Elvis Costello. The Rilo Kiley song on it was “Does He Love You?” It is a humdinger of a punch-in-the gut kind of a song.

I listened to and loved that song in 2005. There has been plenty of time for me to get to know Jenny Lewis better. I haven’t really done that. She doesn’t put out much music. She has changed formats and collaborations a few times. While she tends to get well reviewed, her next move seems uncertain.

Last month at Forecastle, I spent an hour listening to and really loving Jenny Lewis. I decided that I needed to listen to more. Her new album, Voyager came out the end of last month. It made sense to start with this one.

The first go through on this made me think very much of Best Coast – one of my favorite feel good listens. There is a California pop thing going on in many of these songs. Some of them could definitely be tracks on a “songs of the summer” playlist.

But listening to this more closely and paying attention to stylings, there is not a single sound on this album that allows for a pigeon-holing. The album’s longest, and my favorite song, is Late Bloomer. Whether it is autobiographical or not, the story seems so personal. With a fresh “Chelsea Girl” haircut, the song’s sixteen year-old protagonist escapes to Paris. She says she is furious and restless, but the song paints a sensitive, vulnerable girl. That seems to be the theme throughout. There is a lot in here about growing up and growing older.

She recently said in an interview that she wants to write happy songs, but she acknowledged that this album didn’t really reflect that. Break-ups, a parent’s death, biological clocks, life’s complications – show up on this album. She questions roles in both humorous and serious ways. She confesses to being completely in love, but damn, those slippery slopes when you are out on the road and there is whiskey and coke involved. She wants a ring, but not really, she looks horrible in white. “She’s Not Me”  is in the same vain as my first Jenny introduction – this time she is calling out to the guy that she cheated on, who is now about to become a dad with someone who is whole hell of a lot easier than she was.

While he liked the album a lot, Dan thinks that the polish of this album creates a void – a lack of soul. I think that is unfair. Jenny Lewis has a pretty voice. Jenny Lewis writes songs that tell stories that seem to be her own life lessons. She mixes those with production that bring interest – whether it is acoustic and laconic, or electric and percussiony. I’m not sure that it is her soul I see, but I think that album stands up strong.

Next Up: Torch Song by Radiator Hospital

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