Jim Fenske. Only Half the World is Bright.
Jim Fenske, 2014. Jim Fenske: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jim-Fenske/225444554151523
Mr. Fenske is a singer/songwriter from Cleveland, or perhaps Westlake, or Fairview Park (web pages refer to various origins or places of residence), and former guitarist with the band State Fair. In his current career he is a solo artist, preferring to work as his muse moves him. This fascinating CD combines electronic music with elements of rock, ambient, and various other styles, which he combines in-studio to considerable effect.
I very much enjoy how Fenske integrates his music and lyrics. His vocal style seems at first at odds with the music. One might expect something smoother, higher, and perhaps a bit twee. But his voice is slightly gruff, has a bit of a blues edge, but also slides across the top of the music. He adds to his vocals with some echo and overdub harmonies. I feel as it I’ve heard it before, but I know that I have not. The closest singers I can think of are David Essex, and at times Peter Gabriel, especially in his phrasing.
The mix of songs flows well across the album. It seems of a single piece to me, although he probably wrote them at various times, which suggests excellent programming skills, and a consistent conceptual vision. Many of the pieces are slow and somewhat intense in atmosphere, but not tense. Rather, they are concentrated vignettes, each of which displays a different facet of his interests musically and lyrically. There are several songs about love, but many other things concern him as well. The opening track, “Violence,” suggests an mbira overlain by reed instruments, then joined by other percussion before speeding up to dance speed, with Fenske’s vocals arriving halfway through the song and ending with the fade. The effect is mesmerizing. My favorite track on the album is “My Enemy, My Friend,” a slow-to-mid-tempo loping track dominated by Fenske’s vocals in the foreground, both strongly percussive and drenched in harmonies. It has a strong, menacing atmosphere. I shall not give a blow-by-blow description of each track, but suggest that each has unique qualities and emphasizes different sound effects and moods. Sometimes he uses organ washes, other times broadcast voices, or occasionally horns, for punctuation. Here and there, as with “Calm My Mind,” he uses his guitar, creating a song that seems most like rock music. The closing track, “Safir,” is the only instrumental piece, and is simply lovely.
I normally listen to an album on more than one player. This one sounded best on my laptop with headphones because of the separation of sounds. I urge you to seek out this fine artist and become acquainted with his sound world.
Personnel: Jim Fenske (vocals, electronics, instruments).
Tracks: Violence; My Enemy, My Friend; Oceans; Separate; Evidence; Light a Fire; The Best Things, Least Expected ...; Calm My Mind; Safir.