Music comes quite naturally to Jen Olive — if one thing is apparent on her debut album, it is that. I’m always in awe of those individuals who can pick up a guitar and within seconds be improvising something interesting. Jen Olive, as a songwriter, reminds me a lot of such people. There is an ease to her structure and lyrics that come as though she barely needs to lift a finger to compose something adequate.
However, with so much music available these days, “adequate” is certainly not enough. That’s where Andy Partridge comes in: Partridge signed Olive to his Ape House label with knowledge of her shortcomings, and is responsible for most of the backing instrumental arrangements and playing. You can feel Partridge’s hand in taking what could have been forgetful folk music and refining it into something more substantial. Tracks like “Robot Boy” and “Set It On Fire” both are prime examples of this mixing prowess. It’s when Jen Olive is left to her own devices that the music becomes forgettable.
“Boulevard,” the album’s first track, is a dismaying start in this sense. It’s not necessarily a bad song, by any stretch, it’s just uninspired. The album on a whole reminds me of a similar music collaboration, She & Him. However, in She & Him, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward both improve each other, as though the relationship is symbiotic. Here, it feels like Partridge is lifting Jen Olive on his own. There are very few tracks I particularly love, especially once you enter the second half of the album, wherein each song begins blurring into the next — track changes only noticed by the silence in between, as opposed to thematic or musical shifts. Only on the third to last track, “Franscrams!” does the album grab you again. The layers of vocals create a crowded but exciting shake that’s pretty irresistible. For fans of this type of sunny day feel-good folk, you could do much worse. But you could also do better.
(Ape House, PO Box 2126, Storrington, West Sussex RH20 4WF UK)