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Jennifer Gentle - Valende

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Artist: Jennifer Gentle

Album: Valende

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Apr. 5, 2005

Plumb Valende for any deep meaning and you'll come up empty. You would also miss the point. Its superficiality is its substance. The Italian duo, hailing from Pavoda, packs their songs with brittle, bizarre textures meant to enchant. After two releases on their own Sillyboy label (both of which have been compiled on a single disc from Lexicon Devil) and a live set of guitar drone pieces with Acid Mothers Temple’s Kawabata Makoto, Jennifer Gentle signed to Sub Pop. On Valende, their first domestic US release, the duo combines dreamy acoustic atmospheres, kitchen-sink arrangements, sonic eruptions and an absurdist take on pop structures to produce a nonsensical, vaudevillian psychedelia.

JG’s albums show a progression from sonic tinkering to full-fledged songwriting. Marco Fasolo says, “For me a song is like an empty room: sound and production techniques are the furniture.” JG’s songs, then, are very cluttered rooms. Fasolo contributes various guitars, kazoo, glockenspiel, organ, harmonium and helium-inflected vocals, while Alessio Gastaldello adds percussion and voice. When JG concentrates on crafting their palette into songs, the results are superior to their more self-consciously weird pieces.

The handclaps, tambourine, organ and guitar make “I Do Dream You” bounce so bright and sunny that one imagines the Monkees locked in a studio and pumped full of speed. Fasolo and Gastaldello stretch out on the seductive “Circles of Sorrow,” dressing up the melody’s lullaby lilt with droning bowed guitar, fingerpicked chords and glockenspiel. “Liquid Coffee” best displays the duo’s enchanting ability to integrate bizarre, decorative sounds into the fabric of song. More glockenspiel, a ticking clock, castanets and a kazoo drone have as much prominence as the cymbals and guitar.

While the 11 songs express a range of sentiments, they are ones that run shallow. The drifting acoustic guitar sketches of the two-part “The Garden” are the ‘meditative’ pieces, and they sandwich the album’s ‘weird’ piece, “Hessesopoa,” a pointless seven minutes of psychedelic mush. Name a cliché of psychedelia and it is here: cymbals crash, synthesizers moan, guitars twang, etc. It is so full of obvious gestures that one hopes it's a joke. If so, seven minutes aren't needed to get to the punch line.

“Nothing Makes Sense” features the album’s most complex arrangement, shifting between galloping verses, snarky guitar-riff breaks, organ-handclap breakdowns, and a hokey pastoral interlude. The cut-and-paste twists and turns bring to mind Frank Zappa, who so famously took the piss out of psychedelia’s overwrought excess. But his expression, so bitter and cynical, leaves the listener cold. JG manages to both make fun and have fun, their music more goofy than cynical.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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