An arm or other limb close up with hand and painted fingernails

Jess Williamson - Native State (album review)

A review of my favourite album of 2014.

Sometimes it takes a long time to realise that that which you’ve been spending a lot of time with means more than you take it for.

For ten months of 2014, the sparse drawn out guitar that introduces these seven songs has signalled the start of so many journeys I’ve made it’s as if the imagery and characters of the songs that follow have seeped out of the headphones into the world to stay there shadowing the year’s memories whenever they come to mind.

Other records have joined it, many so bright they instantly spark a desire to talk about them with friends. But that guitar has kept coming back, at first out of curiosity, then comfort, and finally a realisation that playing through, time after time, is a moment of storytelling that ranks as the best thing I’ve heard all year.

The first six songs are so interwoven it seems nonsensical to try reaching for highlights. Each drifts in and out at its own will, circling over a few words for a while, coming in with a surprise dynamic shift, a chorus. I should know all the parts by now but I’m still surprised at the unconventional timing with every listen. It feels more like a film in six acts with many memorable scenes in each than six songs you could separate.

Then “Seventh Song” arrives and it’s a sudden blast of catchy, short, immediately relatable words and melody. You could put it on a compilation with others but as those first chords strum in, my mind goes “oh, that was quick” and realises it’s there again, at the end, reminding me just how many times I’ve repeated the record. It’s another signal and after a day or two it’s back to that opening guitar line, in time for another journey.

When I first saw the lyrics printed out on the back of the record sleeve I was surprised at how few of them there were when reading through without backing. Within those words, and the seven songs they live in, are so many vivid pictures that they seems to be painted in paragraphs not a scattering of sentences.

Just as the record manages to limit the amount of instrumentation to sit beside the vocals, never overtaking and sometimes falling away completely, the words point out things to look at as if they’re just a tour guide through a vast scene. For such a visual album there’s little description.

“Just look at those eyes of hers…” and it’s like you’re shuffling in closer to the storyteller, not wanting to miss a word and suddenly find yourself surrounded by the scene that’s being described, grasping wildly at the scenery to grab as much as you can.

“All of us thinking what we can’t photograph we can sing” she says. That scenery takes you between moments captured through a camera, phone conversations, a car window, mountains, rivers, walks, delusions and a “wild Northwest storm that feels put on for me and my girl” but once it’s over the set begins to grow way past its allocated running time, hinting at moments that sit slightly outside of the view of the revealed narrative.

“I got a good idea, I just can’t find my pen.” she sings on the closing track. It’s a little record of big things, full of short glimpses into a world that’s got so much going on in it can be drifting past you for ten months before you start noticing it.

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