reviews- Inga Liljestrom’s black crow jane

“Something truly happens when beautiful voices of the north attack folk music. Like Frida Hyvonen before her, Inga Liljestrom masters a sense of space and ambience, treacherously calm. The ettiquette is strange, with a distant legacy of Kate Bush on Black Crow Jane, alternating between perfect nursery rhymes for adults and unnerving rock epics. [She]… has appropriated some American heritage, but it is barely recognisable here, under an assault of fire and ice. A small marvel of poetry who caresses as much as she cuts.” (Journal Ventrilo, France)

“…an undeniable mastery in writing, composition, production, arrangements, visual – a breath and power that does not evaporate, as in many others….Black Crow Jane alternating climates, hot, cold, hit, appeased (skeletal lament Drowning Song, rock and thick skinned Mascara Black, Bloodstain, almost folk delicacy Wishing Bone Hands, Wildest Horse, or …) Between rock and cabaret Gothic Inga Liljeström with her ominous incantations, she reminds us that before her, another Australian came to Europe to impose his unique vision under high influence of tortured crooner: Nick Cave.”(Telerama, Hugo Cassavetti, France)

Inga Liljestrom

This is the album you have been waiting for. You, that is, who have seen Inga Liljestrom live, who have listened to her first two albums, and who have waited for six years for album number three to materialise. While 2005?s ELK garnered much deserved acclaim, there remained a feeling that Liljestrom was a work in progress, that there was better to come, and with Black Crow Jane she has delivered. In the intervening years Liljestrom has moved to France (given her European cinematic inclinations that comes as no surprise) and given birth, not that there is much indication of the later material wise. Indeed motherhood has not diminished her sexuality in any way: “So I rode my wildest horse…I let him feel the weight of me”. Musically the scope has broadened, beyond the obvious and more occasional Bjork moments – Drowning Song – there is a tougher more blues based approach, with PJ Harvey an obvious touch stone, particularly on Mascara Black. The albums opening track The Rain and the Sea is a standout, its hushed beginnings blossoming and expanding into dirty blues roots number that sweeps itself overboard. Black Crow Jane is the fully realised album Liljestrom has promised, her voice not only both emotive and evocative as before, but now confident and assured.” (Chris Peken, Alternative Media/ City Hub/ City News)

“Occassional Sydneysider Inga Liljestrom seems to fit into the art-rock branch of things, with an ornate cover image, idiosyncratic instrumentation and a singing style that can be arch and sometimes bordering on dark cabaret. But she’s earthier than that, with both a stubborn pop subtext to her songs and a stiffened spine of dangerous rock. Those sides balance spookier excursions, such as Rama and the Rain and The Sea, where Liljestrom cuts sharply.” (Bernard Zuel, Spectrul, Sydney Morning Herald)

“With a delivery that recalls Joanna Newsom and PJ Harvey, and a quixotic approach that matches her obvious Scandinavian antecendants, Inga Liljestrom continues to weave mystery and melody into intriguing pop on her latest French-recorded album, Black Crow Jane.” (Drum Media)

“…Inga is undoubtedly one of those rare artists with an assertive personality – even if comparisons with PJ Harvey and Bjork are as common as they are. Instead, let’s put her in the same family as Shannon Wright for her rougher, more personal but equally effective style. Initially intrigued by the beautiful sleeve, we soon delighted to discover that she hid many pearls of sombre and haunting rock. The album starts with The Rain & the Sea, a number with tortured guitars and a biting lament that reveals a dark world accompanying the slightly hoarse (just enough!) voice of Inga Liljeström. But this kind of rock, as tribal as a kind of Patti Smith, is only one of the album’s many attributes. Although she maintains this basis, she also injects some soulful elements (Dogs & Wolves) as well as some cheerful pop (Bittersweet) and experimentation which links her more directly with the Bjork comparisons, such as on Drowning Song, which is endearing due to the music as much as the delivery. But as we have stated, Inga Liljeström is first and foremost a rocker, showing her taste for rough guitar sounds, such as on Bloodstain, a song which is not too far from the unrivalled sounds of Anna Calvi. And then there’s the blues of Mascara Black, with the amps pushed to the depths, or the acoustic Gun Lovers and Roots, with its use of slide guitar. It’s useless to say more, now you understand from where Inga Liljeström evolved. We have just discovered her but you will spend a good few years following her career and future albums, which will not pass you by this time.” 8/10 (Stars Are Underground, France)

“The album title gives a bit of a hint, with its subtle connotations of the south of the U.S.. But pressing play on first track, ‘The Rain And The Sea’, gives the game away. Inga Liljeström is finding inspiration from more traditional American and blues roots these days, rather than the European atmospherics she has been known for in the past. Of course, it’s blues filtered through her own unique prism and the work of decidedly European artists such as PJ Harvey and antipodean strands such as Crow or Bluebottle Kiss. The opening track builds up a genuine excitement as its dry as bones guitars and drums rattle under Liljeström’s always distinctive vocals. It’s an impressive and unexpected opening gambit. From here, the album maintains the high standard. ‘Dogs and Wolves’ hints at a bit more of the atmospherics I’d normally associate with Liljeström’s work. A dusty synth wash sets up a track full of pure abstract guitar fuzz, pizzicato string bass and the voice narrowed to the type of mid-range favoured by Beth Gibbons that allows it to cut through the noise. ‘Drowning Song’ is one of the few overt Björk referencing tracks on the album, Liljeström backing herself with solo toy piano and field recordings of moving water while her vocals emulate the meandering/melodic wanderings favoured by Björk. (As a side note, the album’s artwork also echoes the Icelander with its enigmatic portrait, abstract headpiece and overlaid line drawings.) Any criticisms of Liljeström merely aping her idol, however, are quickly blasted away by the dirty guitar of the following ‘Mascara Black’ which contrasts its desperate verse segments with lush orchestral chorus interludes. Moody electronics raise their head in the midst of ‘His Thieving Ways” acoustic jazz-pop backing which rise to a menacing crescendo. ‘Bloodstain’ is the most overtly blues-rock track on the album, but the sheer dryness and passion of its execution keep it away from decades of cliché, even reminding me a little of Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon. The album closes with another minimal track, Liljeström backing herself with simple ukelele on ‘Wildest Horse’. This allows her voice, which is remarkable throughout the album, space to really demonstrate its strengths – evocative and emotional yet never crossing the line into histrionics.

Lyrically there are hints at quiet desperation tempered by a sense of peaceful resolution. Interesting twists of phrase jump out, like ‘Wishing Bone Hands” “And I carry his heart in my song” or “With our hearts in our mouths / Too dry to bleed” from ‘The Rain And The Sea’. Liljeström also dips into the strong blues heritage of religious imagery, pushing it into more ambiguous and poetic corners. ‘Mascara Black’ evokes Mary Magdalene and unrequited love while, later in the album, the definitions of love seem to diversify and resolve in reverse double entendres, where sexual imagery (“I rode my wildest horse…Let him feel the weight of me”, “I’ll make my fire with you…As you make a lover of me, you do”) actually sounds more platonic or even agape within the contexts of their respective songs. Liljeström has pushed herself with Black Crow Jane. Pushed herself into new sonic territory, even though she had a case to stay within the parameters of the sounds she had successfully inhabited in her first two albums. Pushed herself in the depths of lyrical explorations. Pushed herself to not repeat but grow and develop. That Black Jane Crow is far more than an experiment but a polished, rounded and complete work, is a testament to her skill and vision.” (Adrian Elmer, Cyclic Defrost, Australia)

A voice poisonous and addictive...”The Rain and the Sea”   which opens the album has its share of expected sharp guitars, drums controlled inspired punk…  “Dogs and Wolves” brings us back down to earth , or rather, we are nailed on the spot. The atmosphere is the string typed, scraped, distorted, twisted, pinched and dammit, THIS VOICE!…We must wait until the third title “Bittersweet” to succumb to the beautiful soft bites…Nude, we are helpless before such a controlled riot…In 10 years, she produced four albums and released a DVD, called to become cult as it seems that everything this artist touches turns to gold.  What emerges is a sensation that continues to escpae being on familiar ground, well marked and at the same time to cross the world for someone extraordinary in every sense of the word. A real discovery.” (Ukhan Kizmiaz, Core and Co, France)

“June is the first, official month of winter in Australia, but it’s been damn cold at night for quite a number of weeks. While I’m not yet at the stage where I need to re-think my negative position on the snuggie. hearing about the release of a new album by Inga Liljeström was welcome news indeed – I’ll take her smouldering ember-like voice to warm my nights over a blanket with sleeves any time. I’m sure everyone has felt that mix of excitement and reserve when a favoured artist releases something new, particularly when – after three years of keeping record – one of their previous albums remains the most played of my entire collection. Elk is a breathlessly good album, pretty much perfectly capturing in sound the fire and ice sensation of love, desire, intimacy and everything in between. By comparison, it’s fair to say that Black Crow Jane is a little older, wiser and more incisive than any of its predecessors. It’s also more resolved, even if at times the subject matter is slightly less so, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t have the slightest hint of becoming jaded in the process. Love is still sacred in this world; and if Elk was about moments that sear the heart, Black Crow Jane shows that those experiences can make if fierce, but don’t stop it from having the capacity to remain quietly and beautifully vulnerable at times. Jazz and blues were always a noticable undercurrent to Inga’s unique, film noir blend of trip-hop, rock and folk; whereas before they highlighted moments of yearning, mourning and wonder, on this album it’s soulful, sultry and sharply seductive. The sheer and intimate nature of previous work made albums like Elk incredibly bold, despite their vulnerability. This album is no less intimate or bold, but there’s a definite shift in where and how such things are shown. This time around, sound-wise, the comparisons to both Björk and PJ Harvey (which is not uncommon when it comes to talking about any strong female artist, particularly if their work contains the slightest hint of electronica and/or rock) are not far off the mark; Black Crow Jane has elements akin to the brash, bluesy-rock honesty of Harvey, as well as the playful, curious and occasionally delicately blissful charm of Björk, but (of course) is unmistakably Inga Liljeström. (Satellite of Entropy, Australia)

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