Published Oct 28, 2016Jessica Stuart is definitely an outlier in indie rock. The self-described "prog Joni Mitchell" sings (Auto-Tune-free), plays guitar and koto (she learned the Japanese 13-stringed harp from her mother at age 9) and is backed by upright bass and jazzy drums. Her songs incorporate asymmetrical rhythms (based around five or seven instead of the usual two or four), and unconventional melodic content. Somehow, amidst all this, she also brings a warmth and light-heartedness that draw listeners in.
"Easier Said Than Done" opens the album with a funky, staccato riff that almost feels like a bossa nova but in 7/8 time. Album highlight "One Day" is a beautiful ode to her mother, which is appropriately built around the koto, but enhanced emotionally by romantic string arrangements toward the end. The jazzy, romantic lullaby "Without You" is elevated by Toronto jazz great Elizabeth Shepherd.
Stuart's curatorial efforts demonstrate a restlessly roving ear, drawing together jazz, folk, prog rock, pop, R&B and global sounds. That she stretches herself creatively is laudable, but at times she might be stretching too thin, trying on too many different hats. Another flaw is that her lyrics are sometimes so direct and literal they can read like a self-help manifesto or feel-good meme.
Stuart's strengths seem to be opposed sounds: angular, proggy stuff and meditative, moody textures. If she can marry these cohesively on her next outing it could be a masterpiece. In the meantime, we can still enjoy her creative exploration and quality musicianship as the rare gems they are. (Independent)