[Sub Pop – 2005]
Review by Monte Holman
So your favorite bands are the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. And during the last decade you listened to a lot of Guided By Voices. Oh, and you’re a big fan of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Well then, Jennifer Gentle is your band.
Jennifer Gentle isn’t really Jennifer and is only sometimes gentle. This Italian male duo explores rough lo-fi recording and the rock aesthetic lightheartedly, finding music in laughter, kazoos, cowbells, and even squeaking balloons. But there’s another side to the band that helps us accept the jokiness and continue listening both critically and carelessly. Despite its superficial high jinks, Valende, Jennifer Gentle’s third album and first Sub Pop release, impresses.
Marco Fasolo and Alessio Gastaldello, the core of the band, write songs that are multifaceted. Sort of schizophrenic. Two tracks, “The Garden” (parts one and two), sound like they’re sung by the real-life female embodiment of Jennifer Gentle. Breathy and delicate falsetto vocals unravel atop acoustic guitars in “The Garden, Part One” and build back up in “The Garden, Part Two.” In between the garden songs convulses “Hessesopoa,” the kind of frenetic chaos Sun-Ra would enjoy (all seven minutes, thirty-three seconds of it). Beginning in light, quick cymbal hits, the song spirals out into hysteria, evoking the image of the Indians from the Good, Bad, and the Ugly soundtrack chasing Elmo through the percussion section of a music store.
These tracks represent the extremes of Jennifer Gentle: the band appreciates quiet harmonies, but they’re also really hyped up on coffee as one song title, “Liquid Coffee,” suggests. The other seven tracks on the album consist of possible combinations of the garden songs and “Hessesopoa.”
The backbone of most songs is a tinny acoustic guitar, a ride accompanying a loose drum kit, and a bass line. But Fasolo and Gastaldello fill everything out with extras, xylophone, Stones guitar, dreamy vocals, a recorder, whatever fits. “I Do Dream You” contains distorted guitar bends and warm organs topped off with hand claps. It’s a fast-paced go-go song. And I’m pretty sure the helium inhaled for this one carries over into the next track, “Tiny Holes,” which begins with a rising chord progression, lazily floating as if the musicians, well, inhaled too much helium and are now paying the price.
In the balance between chaos and beauty, Fasolo and Gastaldello discover a natural inclination toward the absurd. Lyrically, yes-for example one refrain repeats, “On the sofa / if you please / I spilled some coffee / on my trousers,”-but also sonically. The aforementioned balloons and other nontraditional instruments, production antics that pit instruments against each other in opposite speakers, and cartoony yee-haws, oohs, and ahhs.
“Nothing Makes Sense,” a fitting title and the last song on the record, bounces around, starts and stops, and pops in and out amusingly. Lines like “honey bunny Sunday morning Sunday boring by the way” could’ve been spoken by the Mad Hatter himself. And if all this hasn’t satisfied our inner children, the vocals elevate to a squealing chipmunk pitch before song’s end.
But Jennifer Gentle have the ability to rein it in. You have to like a band with a sense of humor combined with talent and an overall sense of cool. It’s smart, it’s Italian, it’s a nice sampling of different eras of rock and roll, it’s Jennifer Gentle-fresh with welcomed unpredictability.