Cassandra Jenkins
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature


4.5
superb

Review

by HelloJoe USER (8 Reviews)
November 8th, 2021 | 3 replies


Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A superb meditation on the process of healing and the importance of relationships, performed and practiced with tight and transitive instrumentals.

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is the sophomore album release by Brooklyn based singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins. The album is a meditation on loss, mental health and relationships; observations awash in crooning saxophones, buzzing guitars and affectionate vocals. It’s a beautiful record about inevitable change, coping with that current and defined by music that in itself, offers the listener its own cognitive therapy.

When the album opens, we find Jenkins struggling with the healing process that comes after loss. There’s a resistance here; a disarray that gives me the sense of someone not moving forward but looking back at loss and casting it as her only fate.

“You play the villain
In the age-old tale I've been living
Since I was young, far too young
To know the role I was given”

It’s certainly a very sorrowful opening but as the album progresses, these themes are explored in measured and varied perspectives, lending a depth to the subject that does not wallow in any one specific mood or emotion. It helps that levity is prescribed in the song’s stocky production. An electric guitar strums and buzzes, full-bodied acoustic guitar and a punchy bassline deliver the album’s most upbeat track. It’s a helpful counterpoint to the subjects’ otherwise lingering disillusion. Already, Jenkins is defining her experiences in very particular words. They’re not only inventive but draw the themes in vivid imagery. It’s a good sign for any observational song-writer to define in terms both specific and wholly relatable.

This thread follows through on ‘New Bikini’. A song I’m particularly fond of due to its relatable metaphor for healing. Perhaps thanks to a decisive seven song track list and a want to cover all angles of the subject, the second track already begins to consider the process of healing. Maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek or naivety that Jenkins is found believing that the ocean has the power to heal any ailment but there’s definitely a relatable desire in that idea. What if our problems could be washed away with such ease? Wouldn’t that be lovely?

“My mom asked if I was ok…

Said baby, go to the ocean
The water, it cures everything”

This suggestion presented by her mother as the cure to the anguish of loss could be seen as a sensible respite from anguish. After all, the ocean is often an auditory setting for mindfulness and guided meditation. However, the powers seem so convincing to Jenkins that she later suggests them to a physically ill friend…

“My friend Grey is sick again
The doctors shell out medicine
And add there might be something in
The mind/body connection
So I told him
Baby, let’s get you to the ocean”

I can’t decide for certain whether this is meant as scrutiny or to suggest Jenkins’ willingness to internalize the advice of those around her (as she also demonstrates this behaviour in ‘Hard Drive’) but all the same, there’s still that underlying want that I am drawn to… This sort of duality between ‘Michelangelo’ and the miserable inevitability of our circumstances and the desire for that to magically wash away in ‘New Bikini’. It’s very impactful and creative!

It helps too that Jenkins and the performers are so talented. Jenkins as a vocalist sings mostly in alto with a gentle husk. I love how each word is pronounced with such a precisive attention to each word being sung. Supporting Jenkins’ vocals and guitar is producer Josh Kaufman who rounds out the arrangements with various instruments including guitar, banjo, bass, synths and piano. Performances across the board are excellent. JT Bates’ softly brushed snare and cymbals on ‘New Bikini’ progress to a softly pattered slap, and he fills the arrangement with careful toms to bolster the body of the percussion. The song is deceptively complex with no one performer in the pocket and everyone from saxophone to drums performing a controlled chaos that works very well.

Stuart Bogie and Doug Wieselman trade duties on saxophone and their freeing cries most certainly provided lightness to the arrangements of guitars and strings; an breeziness that makes the songs feel alive. ‘Hard Drive’ is certainly a standout with its steady piano chords and wafting sax, and Jenkins effortlessly sweeping from spoken-word to soft croons. The importance of friendship in times of crisis. Struggling with loss is only made worse when done alone, and here Jenkins finds comfort in the words of others; whether it’s choice words from a security guard or meditations with close friends. Jenkins’ repertoire of CBT techniques expands with reframing the mind as a hard-drive and guided practices of letting go. Jenkins is literally moving forward when she earns her driver’s license.

Mournful as songs like ‘Ambiguous Norway’ are, Jenkins is prepared to say goodbye. And although this song has a particular person in mind, there’s something to be said about where she has brought us. In the penultimate track, ‘Hailey’, we’ve come a long way since the anguish of ‘Michelangelo’. It’s a very simple and heartfelt ode to a person. A person with whom Jenkins undeniably cares deeply about. It’s nice to hear this. To hear that she is present - not living in the past but looking forward at what might be…

“She said
New year
New you
Same me”

The album's thematic progression is only one of its many strengths. A production that can be both devilishly complex and yet considerate of the understated nature of the album is a testament to Jenkins' creative vision and Kaufman's talent for capturing it. An Overview… closes with an ambient piece. Synths and saxophones share space with a field recording. Footsteps press the ground beneath and distant families play. To me, it’s a gentle reminder to listen to the world around you, to step outside of your mind and remember that the world around you is phenomenal.



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3.6
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It sounds like what the album art looks like...



Comments:Add a Comment 
hamid95
November 8th 2021


1178 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Pos'd



Made me bump my rating, this is one of my favorites of the year

HelloJoe
November 8th 2021


1059 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Same. I come back to it very often. There's a handful of albums this year that I repeatedly return to, and they always find me in the mood to listen to them.

Transient
November 9th 2021


1518 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review. One of my favourites of the year, too.



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