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Jessica Sligter Fear and the Framing Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Deliriously expressive and occasionally brilliant stuff from the Dutch songwriter.

Noel Gardner 2012

There’s been talk in 2012 concerning the term ‘singer-songwriter’ – and the supposed devaluing of its currency. And the notion that it now makes people think of young males with acoustic guitars and forced rhymes, or kooky ladies pitching their sound at mobile phone adverts, might have some validity.

Yet a wealth of solo performers with genuine depth and creativity are also on offer, just below the mainstream’s surface. On Fear and the Framing, her second album, Dutch musician Jessica Sligter takes her place within these ranks.

Sligter’s 2010 debut album Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, released under the name JÆ, was a piano-heavy and promising, if mildly unfocused, work. This follow-up is stronger on just about every level. Her voice, higher in the mix than before, rises and swoops dramatically. On the album opener Man Who Scares Me, it’s backed up by brass and bells; on The Perfect Vessel, a simple acoustic guitar motif suffices, Sligter seemingly channeling Leonard Cohen as she sings, “They hand you pills and tag you…”

Often obtuse and jazz-informed in its atmospheres – Randall Dunn, an American engineer best known for working with bands like Earth and Boris, mixed the album and probably has much to do with this – Sligter is perhaps most enjoyable when her ‘out’ tendencies meet with a simple folk-pop song. Everly, a melancholy acoustic strum, encapsulates this: its refrain, “I lost you when I found you, Everly,” has tipsy sing-along potential, but the verses creak with gothic dread that calls to mind Jarboe.

Although Fear and the Framing will be a bold and captivating record irrespective of its sales, other singer-songwriters – ones who have tasted success despite their resolute non-commercialism – do cross your mind over its 40 minutes. Pricklet, whose subject is affectionately likened to a thorn, would have done Bill Callahan proud on any of his Smog albums; while Joanna Newsom has proved there’s an audience for challenging singer-songwriters with her three albums to date.

If Jessica Sligter can continue making records like this, deliriously expressive and occasionally brilliant, then everyone listening will be rewarded, at least.

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