Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jane Siberry Visits from The Past and Future

Jane Siberry Always Seemed Like She Came Unstuck in Time.

The best music usually does. And the music of Jane Siberry always sounded like it had one foot rooted firmly in the past and one foot in the distant future.

So, starting at the end and working backwards:

In 2006, Jane Siberry gave away all her house and all her possessions (except for a single guitar) and changed her name to Issa. She's still writing songs, recording, and touring (including giving university lectures on creativity).

Throughout the 1990s, Siberry continued recording, releasing a series of albums (on Reprise and then on her own label) that never did much for me -- including an album consisting entirely of songs she'd written in her teens (which I bought but only listened to once or twice). I saw her live in the mid-1990s in a very disappointing show that concentrated on new material. Much as I admired her for following her own muse, it wasn't taking me anywhere I really wanted to go. Somewhere along the way, she started a website and pioneered the idea of "self-determined pricing" for her music.

Her 1989 album Bound by the Beauty dispensed with synths and returned to simpler song structures and more direct songs. I saw her tour behind this album at a show recorded for possible release as a live album (that never came out). The show was a late show that was supposed to start at 10, but the early show didn't get out until 10:45. We all assumed that meant that the late show would be shorter (and would probably suck), but she put on an amazing show and played until well past 1:00 am. I'd still love to hear the recording from that show.(Link for email subscribers).

Reprise signed her on the strength of her third album and she released The Walking in 1987. The album was complex, bizarre, surreal, and wondrous, filled with long songs (2 clocking in at more than 9 minutes) that turn around on each other like Mobius strips. I bought this on vinyl and it took years and years to grow on me (probably because I literally had no clue what most of the songs were about. (Link for Gmail subscribers).

Her third album The Speckless Sky came out in 1985, consolidating and building upon that went before. Her concerts became a synthesis of performance art, insanely captivating improvised poetry, and pure pop music. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

By the time of No Borders Here in 1984, Siberry had largely abandoned her folk roots and was playing strange and wonderful music based around synths (and dozens of tracks of her vocals). "The Waitress" seemed like a classic the first time you heard it, fusing past and future in a goofy synth-pop confection that included the line "And I'd probably be famous now if I wasn't such a good waitress." But the album's tour-de-force is "Mimi on the Beach," a 7 and 1/2 minute evocation of life, death, teen angst, and Jesus that seems more like a great movie than a great song.

Her first album Jane Siberry came out in 1981 and channeled late-60s folk, then twisted it through the prism of an alien from a distant future with off-kilter songwriting that put Laurie Anderson, Joni Mitchell, and Kate Bush through a sausage grinder, then added some bizarre spice that you can never quite identify. Her songs were weird and vibrant, geeky, and wondrous, then sugarcoated by her vocals, usually multitracked to sound like an amazing choir of angels -- just what you'd expect from an overachieving Canadian with a degree in microbiology.

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