Published Oct 08, 2020With Ian Blurton and Brendan Canning in her lineup, Jeen's self-titled album presents as a who's who of Canadian music. However, its sound is far harder to pin down.
Jeen O'Brien has been known to collaborate with others who are thought to have defined a Canadian sound, whatever that may be, but her work steers clear of any sort of national mythology. This is not her first collaboration with Canning; they play together in Cookie Duster. Other Canadian musical influencers she has collaborated with include Serena Ryder and Hawksley Workman. Jeen also welcomed Great Big Sea in the oddly mesmerizing "Everywhere I Go" on her 2015 album, Tourist — she was backed by their haunting harmony, stripped of its usual rousing folksiness.
One thing that is to be expected, this most recent album brings both sounds of the '90s and early 2000s, with Jeen's sweet and strong vocals reminiscent of Neko Case. Blurton's skilled guitar playing is rounded out by Canning's upbeat bass and O'Brien's brother, Ben. Jeff Heisholt joins them on synth, Kevin Fox handles cello, and Stephan Szczeniak provides the drums. Even with a fairly small lineup, the mishmash of sound hearkens to the "collective" ensembles prominent in the early 2000s — of which Canning's Broken Social Scene is a prototype.
The catchy, upbeat "Deep End" is, as stated by Jeen, about smiling when you feel like shit. "Slow and Low," is a Beastie Boys cover (by way of Run-DMC). Both earlier versions have the same punchy, angsty sound, but Jeen's is smooth and cool. Actually, Jeen's vocals seem always smooth and cool. But knowing the original version of "Slow and Low" makes one wonder what kind of angst is lurking just a little bit deeper in the layers of her other songs, as well.
Women are often told to smile — though, of course, there is more complexity to the identity lurking behind the veneer. The most spacey-sounding "Anything You Want" is about being true to your path and not the ones others choose for you. The sound on Jeen's self-titled album conveys the period of suspension as you search for that path. (Independent)