Jennifer Gentle The Midnight Room

[Sub Pop; 2007]

Styles: psychedelic folk, indie psych, freak folk
Others: Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, Danielson

There's something sinister about Marco Fasolo, and I don't mean that he's left-handed (though he may very well be). As the sole remaining member of the Italian pop outfit Jennifer Gentle, he exists in some liminal space between childlike sweetness and psychotic dementia. Of course, this balancing act is one that's been attempted before, with often disastrous results à la the late Skip Spence and Syd Barrett (the latter's lyrics being the source of Fasolo's nom de plume). While his unhinged moments are as freewheeling as his obvious influences, Fasolo appears in control of his hallucinogenic muses, and the creepiness of his musical mannerisms are deftly matched with an obvious gift for captivating melody.

The most adaptable tool in his ample arsenal is his voice. A deranged instrument to be sure; at times it can be as chirpily nasal as Geddy Lee or Daniel Smith, at others more subdued and soothing, and in certain instances, even ethereal. The ethereal is called into service most advantageously for the spiritual opener "Twin Ghosts," whose subtle harmonies and sparse accompaniment come across as a blissful incantation serving to consecrate the listener's ears for the strange journey to come. For the willing adventurer, the following nine tracks offer nothing short of a lovely romp through the fertile gardens of musical abandon.

For some, the more acutely-pitched and carnivalesque tracks such as "Telephone Ringing," "Take My Hand," and "Electric Princess" might come off as too cloying (too much Geddy voice paired with Barrett melodicism), but for my taste, these are the sweet spots that nicely counterbalance some of the more ghoulish ones like "The Ferryman" or "Come Closer," the latter of which closes the album with a moment of pseudo-spirituality similar to "Twin Ghosts." Others might argue the best moments are those that seem too directly lifted from Barrett, but to them I say "Pshaw!" Fasolo injects enough of his own personality to make Jennifer Gentle distinctive and worthy of its own merit. Hearing The Midnight Room now only makes me wish more folks would embrace the poppy melodic side of the psychedelic coin more often.

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