Jane Weaver’s 11th album arrives heralded by the artist’s assurance that it’s the record she has “always wanted to make”. It’s the kind of thing that musicians are wont to say on the promotional cycle, but it feels a little strange coming from Weaver. Her career has encompassed a variety of musical styles – grunge, folk, psychedelia and electronica among them – but she has never given the impression of being an artist hidebound by convention or commercial considerations, or anything else that might conceivably prevent you from doing what you want to do.
She has lightly brushed against the mainstream – Coldplay sampled her track Silver Chord on 2014’s Ghost Stories; the title track of her last album, Modern Kosmology, turned up on the soundtrack of Killing Eve and the album itself made the lower reaches of the charts – but, for the most part, her career has played out in the leftfield, the better to indulge her esoteric music tastes, which currently run to “Lebanese torch songs, 80s Russian aerobics records and Australian punk”. Until recently, her releases came out on Manchester label Finders Keepers amid reissues of 60s Czechoslovakian film soundtracks, French free jazz so obscure the musicians who made it struggle to remember when and where they did so, and mid-70s musique concrète. Whatever you make of its roster, however, it seems unlikely to be the kind of label where A&R men pound tables and demand artists curb their wilder impulses and come up with something for Spotify’s Teen Party playlist.
So what is it that Weaver has felt emboldened to do? Listening to Flock, the answer seems to be: make a pop record, although it’s worth noting immediately that such assessments are relative. Flock is still very clearly a Jane Weaver album, rooted in the influences that informed Modern Kosmology and its predecessor The Silver Globe: the ghost of Brummie experimentalists Broadcast haunts opener Heartlow; the rhythmic pulse that underpins Modern Reputation owes a clear debut to krautrock pioneers Neu!; the title track opens with glimmering chimes and a mass of flute samples that wouldn’t sound out of place on Weaver’s acid-folk inspired album The Fallen By Watch Bird. The synthesiser noises that float around Weaver’s voice and a primitive drum machine on All the Things You Do have more in common with Finders Keepers’ archival releases of esoteric electronics than anything in the charts. But it’s a noticeably brighter-hued collection than her recent albums – and positively neon by comparison with Fenella, the ghostly “reimagined soundtrack” to an old Hungarian animated film she released in 2019.
Foregrounding the melodies that have always lurked in her music, it variously detours into Prince-influenced funk on single The Revolution of Super Visions, stomping glitter beats on Stages of Phases – a lighter, airier update of glam than that found on Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, more shimmering euphoria than sleazy grind – and dance music on closer Solarised. The latter is a perfect example of Weaver’s ability to twist pop music to her own ends. It doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to picture the song at its centre being performed by Kylie Minogue or Dua Lipa – attractive and hookily commercial, the rhythm track and bass fits the current vogue for retooled disco – but the rest of the arrangement is formed by drifting synth tones and flurries. The backdrop surges and ebbs, occasionally threatening to overwhelm Weaver’s voice in the process: it’s both woozy and euphoric. Similarly, the staccato chorus of Sunset Dreams feels close to something Radio 1 might play, but it’s set to a gently hallucinatory collage of sounds: funk bassline, an eddying, amplified dialtone and sundry buzzes and hums, some of them strangely ominous, at odds with the sunlit tune.
The lyrics on Flock often sound at odds with the sparkling melodies and the airiness of Weaver’s voice, drenched as they are in what she’s called “the trials of modern times”. “Do you look at yourself and find nothing?” she keeps repeating on The Revolution of Super Visions, which appears to be about the alternately addictive and repellent aspects of online communication. On other occasions, she is more direct. Modern Reputation finds her raging at the patriarchy and the government in cut-glass tones, her cool detachment making her lyrics sound less like a demand than a statement of fact: “It seems we need a remedy, we must invent some new ideas … we can drive through catastrophe.” Around her, a dense mesh of electronics pulses erratically, as if the whole thing is about to lose its grip on the rhythm and spin out of control. It feels genuinely different and exhilarating, adjectives you can apply just as easily to the rest of Flock.
This week Alexis listened to
Pearl Charles: Only for Tonight
LA-based country-ish singer-songwriter goes full mid-70s high-camp glitter ball, replete with echoes of Fox and Abba’s Dancing Queen. A delight.