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Jackie Lynn, "Jackie Lynn"

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cover imageHaley Fohr's latest album quixotically departs from her Circuit des Yeux project in quite a bizarre and ambitious way.  Half performance art and half avant-garde country album, Jackie Lynn purports to be last recordings left behind by a mythic musician/iconoclast/cocaine dealer before she vanished from her apartment after a "domestic disturbance."  Fohr’s commitment to this elaborate conceit is quite impressive, concocting both a fake newspaper story and mini-documentary to support her enigmatic new persona.  As for the songs, they are a bit of a mixed bag, as Fohr's deep and powerful voice is a very uneasy fit for anything resembling popular music.  After awkwardly veering between bombast and kitsch for a few songs, however, Fohr eventually hits her stride and unleashes some compelling new twists on well-worn formulae.

Thrill Jockey

I have historically had a complicated relationship with Haley Fohr's art, as she seems to be prodigiously talented and incredibly restless creatively, undergoing transformation after transformation without ever seeming to be fully comfortable.  At the root of it all is her singular voice, which is both a blessing and curse, as it invariably eclipses almost everything around it.  There is a very good reason why someone like Diamanda Galas does not ever try to make a conventional rock album (well, several reasons, actually), but Fohr seems hellbent on trying anyway and is intermittently quite successful.  Jackie Lynn, unsurprisingly, is her oddest foray into that realm yet and not just because of the concept and the enormous gulf between her voice and the material.  Equally wrong-footing is the tone, as it is very hard to get a read on just how seriously I am expected to take this new direction.  At times, it seems like a very elaborate joke delivered with deadly seriousness.  Other times, it seems completely sincere (a feminist/outlaw Ziggy Stardust!) and I feel vaguely uncomfortable about finding elements of it funny.  If that vagueness and discomfort is totally intentional, then Jackie Lynn is quite an impressive bit of conceptual art, but it is just as likely that it is just a lark that unintentional offers up conflicting and confounding tones and interpretations.  Also inscrutable is the crazily overstuffed and detailed backstory, as I have no idea why someone would go through so much trouble unless they were trying to perpetuate a hoax.  Perhaps that was the original plan, but was abandoned when everyone realized that Fohr's voice was instantly recognizable.

The actual songs are similarly perplexing, as the tone veers all over the place and two of the eight songs are just hallucinatory interludes clocking in under a minute (in fact, "O" is only 8 seconds long).  I should also mention that there are cryptic sci-fi elements bubbling up throughout both the album and the documentary.  On one of the album’s strongest moments ("Alien Love"), for example, Jackie tells the tale of meeting her true love over music that feels very much in the synthpop vein, featuring all sorts of space-y synth tones and vocal effects.  The album's other clear highlight, "Franklin, TN," tells the story of Jackie's flight from her hometown over propulsive drum machines and Suicide-esque synths, but preserves the Western feel with some very "Morricone" guitar touches.   While both of those piece are great, they seem like they belong on a complete different album than much of what comes before them.  For instance, "Bright Lights" feels like a fairly straightforward and mopey alt-country song played on the wrong instruments and at the wrong speed.  Elsewhere, "Chicken Picken" sounds like a classic country cover with distinctly un-country vocals being played on a cheap Casio using one of the factory rhythm settings.  Then there is "Smile," which sounds like a mash-up of Suicide and an '80s power ballad.  The closing “Jackie,” on the other hand, is a starkly beautiful acoustic guitar ballad.  Despite their stylistic quirks, however, the songs do form a very coherent narrative arc.  Fohr may tell her story bizarrely, but she does tell it...or at least provides enough teasing information for me to try to connect the dots myself, if I were so inclined.

Unsurprisingly, I am not quite sure what to make of this album at all, as it seems to be trying to be a bunch of different things at once and I have no idea if that is intentional or not.  I suppose the mythic Jackie is portrayed as many different things to many different people, so it would follow that her musical legacy is similarly fragmented and chameleonic.  Evaluated as a traditional album, however, Jackie Lynn is definitely a mixed success at best.  For one, I have a hard time relating to lyrics about the very specific fictional adventures of a fictional character.  I will concede that that is probably my problem and not Fohr's, but a larger issue is just that there is not all that much strong material here.  A couple of the songs are quite good, but the whole album is barely 20 minutes long, so even if it is fitfully impressive, it is not a very satisfying meal.  Also, I feel like this album could have been quite fun and swingin' if Fohr had enlisted some actual session dudes and gone country in earnest rather than just making somewhat rigid synth/organ pop while wearing a cowboy hat.  Alas.  I cannot hope to get inside Fohr's head though, so maybe this is exactly what she hoped to achieve.  At the very least, she managed to create an intriguing character (and now has a very cool outfit to wear as a result).  Also, for all its faults, Jackie Lynn is ultimately a very strange and mystifying album that boasts some legitimate flashes of inspiration.  It could definitely be a lot better and more substantial, but it is an intriguing experiment nonetheless.

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Last Updated on Friday, 08 July 2016 08:11  


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