Jana Horn — „Optimism“ (Jan. 21, 2022)
⊕ Písničkářka Jana Horn objevila vlastní svatyně, i když ty její jsou skryty zrakům. Když odjezd na turné trvající tři měsíce a 20 měst vrcholil, Jane Horn opustila svou práci redaktorky inženýrského časopisu na The University of Texas at Austin (UT) a „do éteru vhodila hodně víry“. Po návratu sice překypovala tvůrčí energií, přesto se však ocitla tváří v tvář známé nesnázi: Buď nasměrujte toto vzrušení do pohodlí a domácího lenošení, nebo pracujte na desce.
Location: Austin, Texas
Album release: Jan. 21, 2022
Record Label: No Quarter
01. Friends Again 2:54
02. Time Machine 2:54
03. Optimism 1:59
04. Changing Lines 2:26
05. Man Meandering 3:37
06. Tonight 2:40
07. A Good Thing 3:37
08. Jordan 4:55
09. Driving 4:12
10. When I Go Down Into That Night 2:15
By Jayson Greene ⊕ Jan. 21, 2022 ⊕ Score: 7.5
⊕ Jana Horn recorded a solo debut before Optimism that she scrapped because it sounded too good. “It didn’t reflect me very much,” she told The Guardian. The Texan post~grad fiction writer and teacher recruited some members of the band Knife on the Water and made another album, from scratch, that she liked better. The music was daringly simple this time, and in that space, something sprouted and proliferated: her writer’s mind, which snaked into the cracks left by the arrangements.
⊕ That album, now being given proper release by Philadelphia’s No Quarter, reveals its quizzical heart in its opening seconds. Horn plays the beginning of “Friends Again” on two acoustic guitar strings with two fingers. Absent a few chord changes, the song is intriguingly close to something you could write and play with no guitar knowledge whatsoever. A trumpet eventually chimes in with some whole notes, but otherwise, the action is confined to Horn’s words, which trace the circumference of a psychic wound over and over. “You didn’t just push me out, you dug me out, deep,” she sings airily, adding dripping~faucet repetitions of the word “deep,” as if each time might bring her closer to the injury’s root.
⊕ From there, the album blossoms into a muted country sway, the turnaround licks and shuffles and cymbal hits all played sotto voce. The dry peculiarity in Horn’s delivery recalls Phil Elverum, just as the chilly serenity of the music sometimes evokes Mount Eerie. Filigree — a soft Hammond organ, like a raised eyebrow, on the title track; an electric guitar glinting in the corners of “Time Machine” — warms the edges. If Elverum’s mood is solitary reverie, Horn’s is more tender and intimate: many lyrics read like eavesdropped conversations between partners.
⊕ In her unusually entertaining press bio (“a grad professor once told me that masturbation is writing, as long as you’re looking out a window”), Horn cites Raymond Carver, and her best songs have the bewildering, boiled~down quality of one of Carver’s miniatures. As in Carver’s stories, or Amy Hempel’s, you’re not always sure what the narrator is revealing, or to whom, and the story feels broken off from some larger, ongoing narrative. Take “changing lines,” which opens with one character confessing they woke up “down in my brain” to another. The second character delivers a curious rebuttal: “In certain ways we just won’t relate, and that’s where sympathy can be, and is, enough… down to the molecule, opposites exist, and to exist depend on their opposites (what God is not, he is).” Is that clear? No? The song ends there.
⊕ The album feels about five times larger with the inclusion of “Jordan,” its first single. Whereas the rest of the record sounds homey, “Jordan” surveys alien territory. The bass thrums simple eighth notes, accompanied by nothing except atmospheric swirls and Horn’s lyrics, which detail a dreamlike scenario full of the willfully Biblical symbols and cryptic exchanges that characterize Leonard Cohen songs. She sing~speaks calmly in flowing meter, and as the song swirls and darkens, nothing is clear except for its riveting portent. She’s mentioned it was the last song she wrote for the record, and it has the feel of a transmission from some other place — maybe where Jana Horn goes next.To Make it in Austin, Musicians are Turning Nomadic
⊕ Music helped build Austin into the fastest~metropolis in the country. But what happens to young artists as they pay the price for the city’s success?
By Bryan C. Parker. February 2020
⊕ Songwriter Jana Horn has discovered her own sanctuaries, although hers are hidden in plain sight. On the cusp of departing for a tour spanning three months and 20 cities, Horn quit her job as an editor for an engineering journal at the University of Texas and “threw a lot of faith into the ether.” Upon returning, she was bristling with creative energy, yet found herself facing a familiar predicament: Either direct that excitement into comfort and house~hunting, or work on a record. The solution to that dilemma presented itself in the form of four legs. A friend was looking for a live~in pet sitter for a smoky black cat named Ruby, and Horn jumped at the chance to have a gratis place to crash, a little extra money, and a quiet space to nurture her music while Ruby’s owners were away.
⊕ Although she never advertised her services, one reference led to the next, and by word~of~mouth, Austin’s robust artist community ensured that she kept finding work. After a week at photographer Bill McCullough’s North Loop cottage, Horn might be on to writer Timothy Braun’s South Austin apartment or musician Thor Harris’ house on the East Side. Finding herself in the residences of other artists has its perks, she says, such as well~designed offices, shelves stocked with books, and troves of unusual instruments — environs ripe for inspiration.
⊕ Simple housework, like sweeping floors and cleaning dishes, consumes a portion of her day. But then comes the more specialized demands of her 9~to~5: The requested snapshots of an owners’ animals, fielding inquiries on their respective daily activities, an itinerary of exercises, and a regimen of prescribed pills. Bill McCullough’s cat, Ruby, requires very little maintenance. On the other hand, Thor Harris lives with a dozen different pets on Austin’s East Side, and on walks, the diminutive Horn is forced to grapple with several large dogs as they tug her past fences shielding snarling pit bulls. Yet it’s worth it, she insists, as most of the day still belongs to her.
⊕ She refers to these jobs as “artist residencies” in a kind of half~jest, although the truth isn’t far removed. As opposed to sharing a house with roommates in order to save money, Horn’s solution completely cuts costs while cleverly affording her some precious time to write songs and practice playing. “Maybe I’m everyone’s pet, and they’re taking care of me,” she laughs.
⊕ Most of her experiences as a perennial nomad have been positive thanks to a supportive, insular network of friends, however, the “harsh reality” of her situation occasionally sets in. She takes the minor grievances (e.g. unkempt houses and not having her own kitchen to cook meals) with a grain of salt. But then there are the more frightening instances, like the time she accepted a room for rent on Craigslist with the caveat of having to care for a surly octogenarian who spent most of his waking hours muttering racist epithets over a perpetual stream of Fox News commentary.
⊕ After about two years without a permanent address, sleeping in almost a dozen different homes, Jana recently took on a month~to~month lease and a new part~time job, although she still accepts pet~ and house~sitting work. With plans to release two albums this spring, she expects to tour again soon, which means reverting back to her transient ways.
⊕ If experiencing a new neighborhood (hell, a new life) every few weeks sounds fun and adventurous, Horn points to her own emotional turmoil. Making music can feel like “a jealous lover” that retaliates with harsh questions every time you let your guard down, she says. “Why are you worried about getting a job and a place to live? You’re cheating on me!” she vents. Facing an emotionally and geographically turbulent lifestyle, Horn has developed a set of skills “you don’t exercise when you’re in a stable living situation.” Like her favorite pet, Ruby the cat, Horn’s dexterity has allowed her to land — however strenuously — on nimble feet.
JASON GREENE ⊕ https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/jana-horn-optimism/
ZUVERZA Animation: https://www.zuverza.com/