I’m a huge fan of Jordan Reyne. Ever since encountering her while I lurked on the outskirts of Wellington’s alternative and goth music scene in the 1990s. Her singing has long enraptured me, a powerful, soaring, Celtic-tinged voice, capable of evoking heights and depths of emotion, sensual or terrifying.
She’s just released her most recent collection of songs, the Crone EP, the first of a trilogy of EPs titled “Mother, Maiden, Crone.” Collections of songs about how women are perceived at different stages of their life, starting off with with the crone, the invisible woman ignored by a society that no longer values her appearance.
Mother, Maiden [CRONE] contains five songs, all built from a core of vocal harmonies, Reyne’s voice is layered and looped, used as the primary rhythm and accompaniment while she sings the lyric over and around. There’s some looped percussion with a tribal feel on a few of a tracks, a bit of low rumbly synth and a bit of guitar texture, but mostly it’s just Reyne’s stunning voice.
‘Dear John,’ the opening track, features what might the most sweet and soulful vocal Reyne’s ever recorded. With gentleness and warmth her character sings to a man, a guest, invited into her home, a pretty major-progression vocal riff flitting above a beguiling vocal. But, as the song progresses, it becomes revealed that the invite is more an acknowledgement that the man is there to take from the woman and the other guests what he wants to taste, without acknowledging the source of the feast.
As this is revealed, Reyne starts to constrict her voice, a palatable menace seeping into her singing, before she releases and lets the voice soar, revelling in beauty as the character seems to be revelling that knowledge of her situation gives her power over it. A stunning opening track, quite unlike anything I’ve heard before from Reyne.
In ‘The Shadow Line’ Reyne’s back to Celtic-mode, with deceptively complex percussion underlying the close-harmony vocal loops with Reyne repeating the phrase “I won’t see red.” Until, by the song’s end, where the girl she sings of has aged and been stripped of even of her name, the refrain becomes “I see red”. You can sense the anger and determination in every syllable as Reyne’s voice soars towards the conclusion.
‘Servitude’ creeps in with menace, with percussion, vocal loops and synth building, slowly, surely. Close-miced, this is Reyne at her most threatening, constricting her voice to convey the threat implicit in the character she’s singing, a man – a religion? – who offers hope to women but only rewards them with subjugation. And here, Reyne does that thing she does quite unlike anyone else I’ve heard, letting her voice loose as the song reaches its climax, sending it soaring, to dizzying heights. Harmonising with herself, discordant and complex, hair raising, very sinister, very stirring.
A video’s been made for ‘Servitude’ (see below), and I’d recommend not watching at night by yourself. Very creepy, very disturbing, and a very good example that a cheap video made with one camera, a projector and good make up can be just as effective as any big-budget thing.
‘Turning from the Light’ follows with a sombre vocal loop sweeping the narrator along as she sings of her weariness but of refusing to accept the comfort of the “inimical light.” Before the EP comes to a close with ‘Dishonour Among Thieves’, another masterful example of how looped vocals can let important words linger and meld together following phrases and concepts, to bring together as a whole an indictment and an incitement to resistance against “the men who won’t be blamed.”
This is a profoundly good collection of songs. A quintet bound together by layer upon layer of Jordan Reyne’s incredible voice, charting a progression from the sweet to the sinister. Strong, confident songs, strong and confident lyrics, encompassing extremes of light and dark.
It’s probably been sixteen years or so since I first heard Reyne sing, and I feel that she’s probably singing better on this EP than she ever has before. And her song writing is just getting better with age, too.
I’m very looking forward to the Mother and Maiden EPs being released soon. But, in the meantime, you can buy the EP from Jordan Reyne’s bandcamp page, along with all her other albums. I recommend them all.
Beer match: Parrotdog’s “Sleuthhound”. A Scottish ale / wee heavy version of their Bloodhound, this one’s rich, sweet, darkly red, with a hint of smoke. For some reason thinking of Reyne’s Celtic-tinged, at times smoky voice and red hair made me think fo this. Odd how my brain works.
Postscript: I’ve just learned that ‘Dear John’ is aimed at John Key, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the privileged man taking what he wants from others, invited to a dinner where it turns out the other guests are his food. Excellent…