Tuesday 6 August 2013

Jane Woodman - Teenage Red

Album review by kev@thesoundofconfusion.co.uk

The great thing about the way our site works is that we have writers in various locations around the world, so if something good is out there and it doesn't find its way into our inbox, then there's a good chance that one of the team will stumble upon it anyway. This is exactly what happened with San Francisco's Jane Woodman. We knew the name after being told about this collaboration, and then an introduction piece was submitted to shed more light on Jane's work. We've also had emails, Facebook messages... it's obvious that Jane Woodman is impressing a lot of people in a lot of places. Having listened to all the tracks recommended I can clearly see what the fuss is about. So it'd be a good idea to get stuck into her debut album then.

With a sound that could be described as shoegaze or possibly even psychedelia, you'd think we'd be on familiar ground, and to a certain extent we are, but there's more here than that. Jane herself (correctly) adds "darkwave" to that list, as well as "apocalyptic romanticism", and that description is best of all. 'Teenage Red' is full of innovation, and it takes songs that others would have made into industrial krautrock or fuzzy shoegaze and looks at them in a whole new light (or should that be dark?). Portishead's Geoff Barrow once said of his production technique, that if something sounds right, he'll attempt to make it sound a little bit wrong, just to keep you on your toes and make sure the music doesn't run as smoothly as it could. A list of his award-winning credentials would prove this to be a successful technique, however odd it sounds. It's this same technique you pick up on with 'Teenage Red'.

There are some truly beautiful songs here, but they all have a sonic sting in their tale. Take the angelic voices and chiming guitars of 'Skinwalker', and then notice the jarring beats and vocals that are just too low in the mix. These are perfect imperfections and make this album quite wonderful, like The Cocteau Twins in a warped parallel universe. This spills over into the stuttering, jagged fuzz-rock of 'Creature Smile' and the cold, industrial 'Reticulata' with its icy twangs and mechanical effects, and also, well, the whole album really. We hit an epic mid section with 'Last Breath' and 'Aerial' which draw out the songs and in other hands would be regular showcases of smooth guitar distortion, but here they're just as big and just as good but feel pleasantly uncomfortable somehow. It's a strange paradox and it sums up 'Teenage Red'.

Newcomers to sounds of this nature might find more instant gratification in 'Sooner:Later', the dreamy 'For The Strange' is another highlight and the industrial sounds don't encroach on the music quite as much. One of the main reasons for this album's success is that it removes you from real life; these songs seem to be on a different plane, coming from a different world. It's pure escapism but not in the way that we're used to it. Take the synth-powered 'Particles', it doesn't sound quite of this world, and following it with the distant and muddled 'Opaque' doubles the effect. We're given battered drums on 'Castles' and tortured guitars on 'Saints Forget' before the softer title-track takes us out. 'Teenage Red' isn't always a comfortable listen but it's not meant to be. It is however, the sound of someone taking existing forms of sound and mutating them into something new, exciting and at times very compelling.

Jane Woodman's website

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