Sunday, October 7, 2012

review: jessica bailiff- 'at the down-turned jagged rim of the sky'

Since the first new record from Jessica Bailiff in six years is getting so little press I figured it might not be out of line to post my own review of it even though it’s been out for almost a week now. Only a week before its release did an entry appear on the Kranky records website that Jessica Bailiff’s new record would be landing. It’s notable to mention that even they had no idea Bailiff had been working on a new record, but that she had merely dropped them a line to see if they were interested in previewing it for possible release. The ‘appeared-out-of-thin-air’ arrival of the record only adds to its allure.

‘Feels Like Home,’ Bailiff’s last record, was released in 2006 and saw her offering up a compact set of her most stripped-down material. It was practically all acoustic and retained that ‘created-in-complete-isolation’ quality that all of Bailiff’s releases have. One of the greatest assets of her records is that they seem to be created in a complete trend vacuum—there is always a complete lack of consideration for anything even remotely resembling a musical trend or movement from the era that it sprang from. Her self-produced albums (the last three—the self-titled record from 2002, ‘Feels Like Home’ and ‘At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky’) all have this magical quality, which, let’s face it, is sorely lacking in music these days. Even the best new music seems to have readily identifiable source material (except for Thee Oh Sees maybe, but even they have been operating from a fairly evident self-built base). Bailiff’s new record couldn’t be more distinctive in her own discography—she has created nothing resembling it. Preview track ‘Your Ghost is Not Enough’ sounds like a mix of material from her self-titled record and the Clear Horizon (her trans-Atlantic tape-trading collaboration with Dave Pearce of Flying Saucer Attack) record, but the other eight tracks are practically a world all their own. ‘Goodnight’ moves from a spare, meek keyboard and vocal figure into a sludgy dirge of detuned fuzz bass and loping drums. The fuzz bass and highlighted presence of drums are what set this record apart from her others. Previously Bailiff seemed to purposely bury what little drums or percussion she would use in blankets of ambience and drifting texture, but here they are clearly the stars of the show.

Several tracks evolve into some pretty heavy and epic moments—the last half of ‘Sanguine’ with Bailiff’s overdubbed chanting in the background over a slogging but insistent beat or the intense waltz-time scuzz of ‘Slowly.’ The only moment on the album that approaches ‘weak’ to my ears is the keyboard/fuzz guitar intro to ‘This is Real’—the juxtaposition of the guitar and keyboard figure seems a bit awkward until Bailiff’s vocals enter. The sun-drenched ‘Take me to the Sun’ and closing track ‘Firefly’ get as close to radio-friendly pop as Bailiff has ever been. The truth of this fact has always been what’s made her records so special to me—she COULD go that route if she wanted to, but instead she sticks with what she’s trying to convey musically. This creates a dynamic that is missing from the music of most artists of her ilk—that she will take such pure pop jewels and use them purely to her own ends is entrancing.

While I enjoy the fact that such a talented artist is willing to toil in obscurity seemingly forever, it would be nice if her music would garner wider recognition. The music industry is full of such characters, but rarely are they so purely isolated and obscure as Bailiff has always been. She’s never courted mainstream acceptance even though she easily could. She’s never been anointed with the crown of acceptance by the big guns in the indie music blog universe. Her records get notable reviews on pitchfork but she plays artspace/house/living room venues in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. The news of her every move is received eagerly, but only by a very tiny niche. It’s a faithful audience that seems to have endless patience, which is incredibly encouraging. It’s about time the floodgates were thrown open, though.

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