Cassandra Jenkins
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature


4.0
excellent

Review

by Sunnyvale CONTRIBUTOR (23 Reviews)
March 16th, 2021 | 21 replies


Release Date: 02/19/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It sounds like what the album art looks like

Between the shimmery, somewhat over-the-top beauty of the artwork and the beyond grandiose album title, An Overview On Phenomenal Nature has a high bar to clear. Despite a handful of missteps, Cassandra Jenkins delivers in her sophomore LP, crafting a lush, often-magical sonic experience. The album treads similar ground to her 2017 debut full-length, although any residual Americana influences have largely disappeared in favor of even heavier ambient/dreamy vibes, and the songwriting has notably improved.

The album can be characterized as placid, ambient-leaning singer-songwriter folk and pop. However, no review would be complete without mentioning the album’s tragic backstory, given that Jenkins had been scheduled to open for Silver Jews/Purple Mountains frontman David Berman, with the tour set to begin literally days after Berman’s death by his own hand. Unsurprisingly, this sad sequence of events left an impact on Jenkins’ life and songwriting. The end result is an atmospheric album which lyrically references Berman’s death several times, but more broadly focuses its attention on the grieving and healing process, and on the connection between human psychology and the natural world.

Jenkins kept this album fairly short, with seven tracks comprising a runtime under thirty-two minutes. This decision produces a consistently great album, with a few sleepier sections but nothing which undermines the remarkable beauty of the album’s atmosphere and sound. Bouncy opener “Michelangelo” is one of the album’s more high-energy numbers, featuring a rock underbelly and an enjoyable guitar solo, but it lays the groundwork for the rest of the album with its airy feel. The third tune, “Hard Drive”, illustrates the potential excesses of the album, such as multiple spoken word sections and philosophical topics easily construed (perhaps fairly) as pretentious, but ultimately strikes songwriting gold more than it misses, becoming a clear highlight. Closer “The Ramble” moves into a seven minute instrumental soundscape brilliantly, closing an album frequently focused on Jenkins’ beautiful vocals in a positive manner despite their absence.

Jenkins’ languid, exceptionally pretty voice can make anything sound good, but the lyrics here do deserve mention. An Overview On Phenomenal Nature is an “album” in the most artistic sense of the term, not just a collection of songs but an entity whose constituent parts are fused together by common threads and themes. Jenkins veers here-and-there towards New Age-ish spiritualism which may be derided by some listeners (just hear the references to “chakras” and “the astral plane” in highlight track “Hard Drive”), but overall it just works: her repeated statement “the water cures everything” in “New Bikini” feels wise when set to the context of its transcendent musical surroundings. The periodic sad mentions of David Berman also stand out, notably the longing “farewell purple mountains” in “Ambiguous Norway”. Taken as whole, the album feels like a powerful snapshot of a difficult, but ultimately life-affirming, period in the artist’s life.

An Overview On Phenomenal Nature is an ambitious project which doesn’t always work out, but does succeed on many levels. At the very least, this album features some of the prettiest music you’ll hear in 2021, even if Cassandra Jenkins’ philosophical and spiritual musings don’t strike your fancy. This is a record which can be recommended for all who enjoy indie/folk/dreamy/ambient music, and additionally for any fans of David Berman (despite sounding very little like his own works).



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user ratings (52)
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 16th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I figured this album needed a review, it seems there's a fair amount of hype and counter-hype for it. Personally, I don't think it's perfect, but a pretty great release that's been one of my favorites of the year so far.

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 16th 2021


37197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks for reminding me to rate this. This is one of my favorites of 2021 so far, an absolute beauty.

Digging: Greta Van Fleet - The Battle at Garden's Gate

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 16th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Sowing! It is a gorgeous album, that's for sure

porcupinetheater
Contributing Reviewer
March 16th 2021


7557 Comments


Okay this is really fucking good

@ the album
@ the review

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 16th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks @porcupinetheater!

Jash
March 16th 2021


4281 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This record floored me in a way that hasn’t happened in quite a while

Digging: Youth Novel - Youth Novel

Nocte
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2021


13995 Comments


Really love how you're taking on the Contributing reviewer workload, mind-pos'd and also grats on hitting 2000 ratings.

Digging: Esoctrilihum - Dy'th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 17th 2021


37197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Really love how you're taking on the Contributing reviewer workload [2]

Your writing keeps improving, to boot. The first review I read from you was for The Waterfall II and it was informative but kind of straightforward. You've become much better with your prose and a lot more nuanced with your descriptions. Every time I see your name next to a review, I click on it.

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Nocte and Sowing, happy to contribute!



Glad you're enjoying this one, @Jash.

zaruyache
March 17th 2021


23796 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

b a n g s

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


1554 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Really happy this got a write up. I had been trying for awhile and just couldn’t find the words to describe how I feel about it. Even just writing a comment is difficult!

Hard Drive is one of the most spectacular songs I’ve heard in a long while and the rest of this just exists. It’s shimmery and sounds nice and has good lyrics but it makes me feel absolutely nothing. I can be (and am) very into the minimalist, ambient side of folk and pop, but I don’t understand what this does well with those aspects. It’s not that I find it boring, but, outside of Hard Drive, I just find it completely unnoteworthy. I understand the acclaim that it’s getting to an extent, but I also don’t find anything special about it. Which is a shame, because I really want to enjoy it

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks @dmathias52. I think I get where you're coming from, this style of music tends to be pretty but lots of examples might not be anymore engaging than that. Personally, I think this album works with the lush music and some emotional moments, but if you happen to not feel any connection to it, I could certainly see it feeling a bit average.

SowingSeason
Moderator
March 17th 2021


37197 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I don't think I'd feel much listening to one song here or there, but as an overall experience, it's transcendent.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2021


24257 Comments


This does sound like a good time, nice stuff Sunny, adding it to the list.

Digging: Wolvennest - Temple

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yep, generally agree with that assessment Sowing.



Thanks Dewinged, curious how you feel about this one!

brandontaylor
March 18th 2021


1027 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hard Drive struck me as pretentious at first, but has really grown on me. i was sold when i listened to the entire album and realised it was a bit of an outlier, with a lot of other really great material on here. one of my faves of the year so far

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
March 18th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@brandontaylor, that's not far from how I feel about this as well. Glad you're enjoying!

hamid95
March 18th 2021


945 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

early highlight of this year

Sunnyvale
Contributing Reviewer
April 12th 2021


2206 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

SHE SAID NEW YEAR, NEW YOU, SAME ME



Love the delivery on that line

Jash
April 12th 2021


4281 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

That’s one of my favourite moments too



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