Jennifer Gentle: Valende

Hunter Felt

Jennifer Gentle is not a woman, it is a band consisting of two Italian men who clearly love confounding listener expectations. Why else would they follow-up the rock and roll rave-up of the year with a series of strange folk sketches and noise collages?"

Jennifer Gentle


Label: Sub Pop
US Release Date: 2005-01-25
UK Release Date: 2005-01-31
Amazon affiliate

I think the worst case scenario for the Italian psych-folk band Jennifer Gentle (two men, in case their Syd Barrett referencing band name mislead you) would be if the best song from their Sub Pop album Valende were to suddenly become big. It's not that it shouldn't, the track in question, "I Do Dream You", packs an entire album's worth of psychedelic pop-punk into the span of a little less than two-and-a-half minutes. A romping, stop-start concoction of Nuggets garage rock licks, high-speed vocals, and absolute nonsense sung convincingly, "I Do Dream You" manages that perfect blend of strangeness and pop smarts that instantly makes one skip back to listen to it just one more time. My own, flawed, analogy would be if Ween ever made a genre-skewering album that tackled the Elephant 6 collective, turned the amps up to that mythical eleven, and then added a deflating balloon solo. It is a great song, but it is a lousy indicator of what Jennifer Gentle is all about. The rest of the album, for the most part, is a much quieter and perhaps even stranger affair.

While the helium vocals and spastic guitar fills do make appearances in the hypnotic opener "Universal Daughter" and in the accurately-titled, borderline chaotic, closer "Nothing Makes Sense", Valende is essentially a quieter affair. While the name, taken from the name of a rival cat mentioned in "Lucifer Sam" for no apparent reason, shows the band's desire to follow Syd Barrett's loopy tradition, the majority of the album recalls Pink Floyd's earliest post-Barrett work, where the band was in search of a new identity in the absence of its fallen leader. Jennifer Gentle, likewise, is more interested in exploring a variety of genres rather than settling on an identifiable "sound". Fans searching Valende for more freakbeat rock and roll anthems will instead find oddly disquieting pseudo-folk songs sung in an uncertain whisper, where snatches of melody form only to be lost like the narrative thread in a dream. It's easy to see that the rock and roll set would be disappointed at what, in their view, amounts to a bait-and-switch. I can imagine copies upon copies of Valende finding their way to the used CD bin, tossed aside by the disappointed.

It would be a shame if listeners did not give the rest of the album a few spins before reaching a final opinion. It's true that the mostly acoustic material that makes up the bulk of Valende is not as immediate as the three, more traditionally "rock and roll" tracks, repeated listenings reveal the album's bewitching pleasures. A trio of folk songs, I guess kids these days would call them "freakfolk" songs, provide the heart of the album. "Tiny Holes", "Circles of Sorrow", and "Golden Drawings" are meandering acoustic jams with unintelligible lyrics that none-the-less beautifully pander to the subconscious, where the random organ riffs and humming backing vocals somehow make perfect sense. Again, the Pink Floyd references are unavoidable, as they follow the same breezy and seemingly formless paths as the quiet acoustic songs on Meddle.

The middle section is also heavily reminiscent of mid-period Pink Floyd, which leads me to believe that the Syd Barrett references are designed mainly to distract listeners from a hidden love of the desperately "uncool" '70s era Floyd. In a move straight from the unloved second disc of Ummagumma, Jennifer Gentle takes a relatively simple acoustic ballad called "The Garden", and splits it in two. In the middle they insert a seven minute collage of drums, acoustic guitars, and an assortment of untraceable buzzing sounds. It is not entirely successful, but it stands better to repeat listens than it really should. It should also be noted that the band does not lose its sense of humor even on the slower tracks, as the chorus (?) of "Liquid Coffee" seems to be "I spilled some coffee on my trousers". (Not to mention the fact that clocks provide that song's rhythm section.)

It's hard to hear some of these songs coming from the same country, let alone the same band, as some of the others, and this lack of stylistic (or any sort of) cohesion may prove Jennifer Gentle's undoing. I think the band should be commended, as most bands with the same amount of talent would decide their niche sound before releasing their first, let alone third, album, whether it be outsider folk, psych-rock band, experimental noise rock, or novelty act. Jennifer Gentle has the courage to be all of these things at different times (or at the same time). This doesn't exactly make Valende a great album, but it does make it a refreshing one.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.