Jen Gloeckner
"Miles Away"

(Spinning Head Records 2003)Jen Gloeckner - Miles Away

Somewhere inside the pretty, talented, aspiring mainstream pop star named Jen Gloeckner is a warped, wicked-cool cult diva trying to claw her way out. I know this because I heard the aforementioned evil diva quite clearly on tracks 5 and 6 of Jen's debut album "Miles Away," and again on tracks 10 through 12, buried under a pile of pleasant but forgettable, Sarah McLaughlin/Fiona Apple-derived filler. I can only hope this fascinating creature doesn't suffocate before it bursts out, all ghastly and glorious, like the alien queen from those old Sigourney Weaver movies.

It's not that Jen is bad at the mainstream stuff -- in fact, she's good enough that I fear too many people will tell her to keep going that route. Her voice has a breathy, seductively raspy quality that fits in well with the slightly jazzy piano-and-guitar arrangements on most of her tracks. Like Fiona, but not as mean, or Sarah, but not as musically adventurous, or Hope Sandoval, but not as eerie...in other words, a talented imitator searching for a style of her own.

Which brings us to the evil-diva tracks. "Nothing Personal" comes slithering out of left field, a minimal, creepy drum-machine and bass dirge resembling the bad-trip coda to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" with its enigmatic chorus of "Alice followed the rabbit / Nothing personal, just habit." "Only 1", the next track, has Jen channeling both Björk and Tina Turner over a whiskey-tinged, after-midnight piano vamp trip-hop backdrop, its refrain of "I sit here like a loaded gun / I am here but I am the only one" striking a dark chord. "Clear the Sand" is a snaky, faux Middle Eastern chant, while "Prodigal Son" is a particularly successful Apple pastiche thanks to lines like "If you find that you keep slipping on your own tongue... / You could tie it round your neck like a prodigal son." "Swarm" crawls across the floor with a sinister minor-key melody that Nick Cave might have penned for one of his collaborations with PJ Harvey, and gothic lyrics to match "This raven is waiting to be with you for eternity..."

Like someone who searches all over for their keys only to find them in their own pocket, Jen Gloeckner will hopefully realize sooner rather than later that the personal style she's seeking has been right there on her recordings all along. Sure, pursuing the darker side of her work might disqualify her from pop stardom, but haven't we already got enough pretty faces with pretty voices on the pop charts? Personally, I'd give a thousand Sarah McLaughlins and Fiona Apples to have one more wicked-cool cult diva in our midst.

B-

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