There are two great misfortunes in this world. The first is that too few people appreciate Jen Kingwell…a misfortune which stems from the second, which is that too few people know about Jen Kingwell.
This week, she released her first solo work, which is charmingly different than her previous cabaret-style work with The Jane Austen Argument and neo-noir experiment with Neon Bogart. The Lotus Eaters, a short six-track EP wrought with melodic elegance and experimental beauty, is a must-listen for any fan of baroque pop or chamber pop. The link is above; she releases all her music through Bandcamp so it is perfectly possible for you to start listening to it as you read through this blog 🙂
Its spoken word opening sets the contemplative tone for the entire EP, and the rich strings that follow the echoing words give a sense of regality to the beginning. In just fifty-two seconds, Jen piques your interest in the entire project.
The second track, “Sleeping Lessons,” offers a song as mellow (yet intriguing) as its title. This really showcases Jen’s voice right off the bat, and the ambient sound that trickles in behind her is the perfect prelude to instrumentation that gradually enters. Wordplay like “you’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise” throws an engaging message, both rebellious and gleeful as the song builds.
Bizarre imagery against a rhythmic background defines the title track, “The Lotus Eaters,” giving an ominous tone to this adventurous song. Full of pounding percussion, the pulse is broken only for a crash of cymbals and an exposition of Jen’s upper range. It doesn’t tell a story so much as show us a character, giving a sense of futility and determination all in one wallop.
And somewhere in the world
There’s two kids with their hands
In each other’s hair
Kissing in tutus
And the whole world is watching,
The whole world is watching
Cause this is the lens that makes sense.
Next, with “Kissing in Tutus” (previously released as a single) Jen gives us a higher, more feminine beginning to a song that carries itself with a driving drum—thumping like an over-eager heartbeat. It bears some of the same inspirational vibes as “Sleeping Lessons,” but it’s elevating “ah-ah’s” play against crisp strings and sharp staccato sounds in a very different way. The flow of her voice against the instrumentation is uplifting, and this song as a whole paints a picture of love familiar and fanciful, iconic and individual. It seems to seek to remind us why a kiss—any kiss—is unique and powerful.
I must have missed a memo, because I was pleasantly surprised when I heard track five and recognized that delightfully distinct British voice telling me, in little more than a minute, a brilliant story of a girl and her dreams. How can you not be curious about a track entitled, “She Never Trusted the Stars Again,” and how can you not be satisfied when Neil Gaiman tells you exactly how the stars could lose a girl’s trust? The poetic nature of the story is relayed in simple, concise terms, and is all the more enchanting for it.
The final song, “Andromeda,”full of longing and a loving appreciation for the sublime, gives the EP a strong but sentimental ending. A perfect follow-up to the previous track, it becomes a love letter to something bigger than the stars. Much more subtle than the high-strung electric pop of The Impossible Girl’s The Sky is Calling, this final track on The Lotus Eaters does give a similar sense of musical appreciation for the cosmos in its own way, distinct to Kingwell.
While I still miss the cabaret-sound that she had when I first heard her playing with Tom Dickens, this EP further proves what any Kingwell fan has known since Phoenix: this woman can not only hold her own as a solo performer, but continually blow us away with a new take on her own style every time she composes for us.