Record review: Jen Cloher – In Blood Memory (2013, LP)

Back with her third record after four years tending to ailing parents in New Zealand, Melbourne singer-songwriter Jen Cloher is moving away from her indie-folk roots, towards a sound that is rockier, more immediate, and ultimately better than anything she has done before. Recorded in six days and with a title taken from the autobiography of dance choreographer Martha Graham, the crowd-funded In Blood Memory sees her dabble in lo-fi guitar distortion, single-mindedness, and stark honesty throughout, and showcases an artist who has returned to recording with a fresh, energetic approach to her music. Opener ‘Mount Beauty’ wastes no time getting among the riffs, with rough and raw production evident from the start, and the seven-minute ‘Name In Lights’ burns more slowly before building to a big finish. The country-rock lead lines of ‘David Bowie Eyes’ and ‘Toothless Tiger’ are a charming match to Cloher’s voice, which flits between coarse and gentle throughout the album, depending on the mood. ‘Needs’ is dark and brooding, and closer ‘Hold My Hand’ directly references Cloher’s mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease, and the confusion and pain that comes with it. Despite the often heavy subject matter, this is a triumphant return for a singer-songwriter who must be considered one of the best in the country at what she does. While it seems like forever ago, Cloher’s 2006 debut was nominated for an ARIA award, and the quality of In Blood Memory surely makes it worthy of the same. (Milk! Records)

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