Album of the Day: Jen Cloher, “Jen Cloher”

Few songwriters tackle autobiography as unflinchingly as Melbourne’s Jen Cloher. Even Cloher’s famous wife and collaborator, Courtney Barnett, doesn’t quite approach the level of scouring self-examination and fearless venting that Cloher makes routine against the full-band rock of her self-titled fourth album.

“Indie rock is full of privileged white kids / I know because I’m one of them,” she sings on the T. Rex strut of “Shoegazers,” which also skewers music critics (“Those who can, they do / Those who can’t, review”) as well as anyone who confuses commercial success with artistic fulfillment. That song sprang from Cloher’s experiences on tour with Barnett, who also plays guitar in Cloher’s band. Others, like “Sensory Memory” and lead single “Forgot Myself,” are about the psychological pitfalls of staying home while your wife is on the road for months on end.

Typical of Cloher, “Forgot Myself” is generous with references, casually citing peers like The Drones and Patti Smith before paraphrasing two iconic lines from The Stones: “You’re riding round the world / You’re doing this and you’re signing that.” “Loose Magic” is a freewheeling fable about the power of live music that was inspired by Dirty Three; “Great Australian Bite” is about Aussie bands that nearly destroy themselves moving overseas to make it.

Those referential flare-ups only fuel the gnashing release of Cloher’s songwriting, which can call out Australia’s piss-poor progress on marriage equality (“Analysis Paralysis”) just as easily as it can celebrate her sexuality (“Strong Woman”) and articulate the depth of her love (closing ballad “Dark Art”). She even strikes out into Bacharach-meets-Callahan jauntiness on the distinctly hopeful “Waiting in the Wings.”

Released on Cloher and Barnett’s own reliable label, Milk! Records, this idiosyncratic LP dispenses frank social commentary all the way to therapy.

Doug Wallen

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