The press materials that accompany Jane Weaver’s new album say the following: “Flock is a natural rebellion to the recent releases which sees her decidedly move away from conceptual roots in favour of writing pop music.” With all due respect to our colleagues at Fire Records, there seems to be a good deal with which to take issue in that statement. Because Weaver’s latest album is precisely a continuation of her pre-existing refusal to plow a straight furrow, albeit that much of the material here might seem (and “seem” is, ahem, decidedly the operative word here) to be branching out, or rather in, to the mainstream, and all of that works within Weaver’s pre-existing conceptual framework. But it’s a brilliant sleight of hand with which to begin our consideration of the album.
Flock is, to be clear, a masterpiece, and in that Weaver is also consistent. But if this is a rebellion toward the mainstream (an act that itself appears at least a little bit perverse), it is nonetheless still a rebellion, and in that it is in fact an act of subversion, of musical entryism, deploying pop tropes and styles in the service of Weaver’s continuing restless mission, to explore and to re-invent, both herself and the world around her. And let’s make another clarifying point before we embark on the odyssey of exploring these fantastic songs: if this music were actually to enter the mainstream and become massively popular, heard on radios all around the world, civilization and the Zeitgeist would be significantly improved. This is the very kind of music that should be hugely successful, in a just and peaceable world.
All of this might seem like abstract posturing on the part of your reviewer, for which apologies are pre-emptively offered, but as you listen to the album, which covers about 50 minutes of earth time while covering eons of cosmological time, you will, one hopes, understand the ways in which the album is organized into discrete sections, each of which make statements about numerous musical genres and movements. Indeed, the ways that the various sections of the album are sequenced and juxtaposed are an integral part of the album’s triumphant success and absolutely well-earned self-confidence.
Briefly, there seem to be three sections, as follows: the first three songs (“Heartlow,” “The Revolution of Super Visions” and “Phases of Stages”) experiment with and work out a few different strands of popular music that might serve as foundational reference points, to musical peers, toward some generic trends in popular and art-pop music, and as pointers or harbingers, foreshadowing what is to follow. After that there is a very short interlude (“Lux), followed by the two anchoring songs of the middle section (“Modern Reputation” and “Flock”), which form a bridge between the first and third sections, while also offering a kind of meta-commentary on each of their juxtaposed sections – they are, you might say, quintessential Jane Weaver songs, embedded at the heart of the project. Finally, there is a truly magnificent suite of four songs to conclude the album (“Sunset Dreams,” “All The Things You Do,” “Pyramid Schemes,” and “Solarised”), which really strike out for the stratosphere in a way that sees Weaver trying on a kind of cosmic funk that suits her remarkably well, and opens up her own musical future to a world of untold possibilities. This, then is the brilliantly conceived structure of the album, and its execution is even more impressive.
The album’s first three songs cover the waterfront of what you might loosely call contemporary and recent art-pop. In this imagining of the “pop” spectrum, it breaks down roughly like this: opening track “Heartlow” serves very approximately as an analog for the Broadcast and Stereolab strand of the alternative canon. The second song, “The Revolution of Super Visions,” nods in a couple of directions, one of which is St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and her virtuoso avant-garde guitar music, the other of which is the first breadcrumb that will eventually lead us to the astonishing funk that characterizes the back end of the album. And the third song, “Phases of Stages,” is just a beautiful and bold agglomeration of 1970s pop soup, combining progressive flourishes and glam rock swagger. Jane Weaver owes nothing to anybody, but this opening triptych of songs, feels like an ostentatious act of credentializing, as if to say, “I can really do whatever I want, and I can do it as well as anyone else, just watch me.” And it’s also as if these opening songs are describing a certain kind of pop landscape, the kind of landscape that the charts used to resemble, when weirdness was actually popular. In this respect, Weaver is both forging forward with a futuristic and avant-garde pop vision, at the same time as she is also providing a call-back to a time in the history of popular culture when a band like, say, Roxy Music could be experimental and mainstream at the same time.
Having flexed in some really rather astounding ways over the course of the album’s opening fifteen minutes, there is the very brief palate cleanser of “Lux,” the light of which offers both a buffer between and bridge to the next section of the album. “Modern Reputation” and “Flock” are quintessential Jane Weaver songs, and progressive chamber pop workouts all at once. “Modern Reputation” swirls and soars with cascading and looping electronic and vocal entanglements, conjuring pyrotechnic visual imagery with sound over six glorious minutes, as if Weaver is deep in thought and conversation with herself, communing with spirits only she can see, but whose import she is trying to convey to us. This is almost literally a kind of enchantment, the likes of which even the most motorik and kosmische music could not capture as wonderfully. This is followed immediately by the utterly stunning title track which, while half the length of its predecessor, describes a universe with its sweeping keyboards and woodwinds lined up alongside Weaver’s equally vertiginous vocals. There are multiple moments in “Flock,” but at least one, that may well make you gasp in wonder.
Taken together these two songs feel like the high watermark of Weaver’s career, and they are the filling in the pop-funk sandwich of the album as a whole, such is the genius of the project. Because the first part of the album shows you what pop music could be. The second section shows you how virtuosic and utterly original Weaver can be, and is, and the third section says, what if we take all of that and just go even crazier by making the whole thing into twenty minutes of cosmic funk. It bears repeating that this is a marvelously sequenced set of songs.
That final suite of fours songs, comprising “Sunset Dreams,” “All The Things You Do,” “Pyramid Schemes” and “Solarised,” is probably the best twenty minutes you’ll spend this year. “Sunset Dreams” has a scratchy and deliciously aqueous guitar that recalls the funk of post-punk, a vocal that recalls any number of brilliant forbears, too many to mention, and a lyrical reference to “Hammer Horror” that might make you remember Kate Bush without inviting any actual comparison, but the whole thing just swings and chops, beautifully syncopated. “All The Things You Do” feels like perhaps the most openly romantic moment of the album, even if it never loses the mysterious archness of the whole, and all while we seem to be venturing further into outer space, on a low simmer, funk-wise, until the song fades out of sight. There is just the slightest pause before things get very slinky indeed with the sensuous groove of “Pyramid Schemes,” the album’s penultimate song. “Pyramid Schemes” is seductive and deceptive, pulling you in with the funk of Prince’s “Alphabet St.” and cutting you with the acerbity of its lyrical thrust. We might even be able to trace this mood and this groove all the way back to the psychedelic soul of the Temptations and The Isley Brothers, such is the sweeping historical view of music that Weaver takes here.
And then we come to the end, and the lush vision of “Solarized,” which is also, like its predecessor, musically alluring and lyrically challenging, daring us to “escape…and return to a time that’s more real.” This is another audacious gambit from Weaver, using the twinned temptations of escape and nostalgia simultaneously, all in a bid for authenticity. And in almost anyone else’s hands, all of this might topple over under the weight of its ambition, perhaps its absurdity, and almost undoubtedly its pretension. But Jane Weaver is a special kind of talent, who can pull all of this off, managing to make our heads spin in place as we think of musics past, present and future.