Examining the broader environmental and political landscape of our current times, ‘Let Loose The Beating Birds’ transports listeners into a world of poeticly abstract, textured soundscapes.
Adelaide singer-songwriter Jen Lush is back at it again with her second album, Let Loose The Beating Birds, combining the world of poetry with experimental folk-rock soundscapes to devise what is an enchanting, otherworldly experience for listeners.
Released earlier this year in August, Jen uses her album to explore poetry’s “intertwined relationship with songwriting” and its power to transport the audience to a world beyond the text/song. This is clear throughout the album where Jen, alongside bandmates Sam Cagney, James Brown, Paul Angas, and Mark Seddon, instrumentally craft the new dimension where the power of the lyrics are above all else.
The album opens with ‘The Seagull’; a captivating introduction to the collection with the dissonant harmony, akin to a large ship’s horn, sets an ominous scenery for the landscape of the album. The dissonant harmonies intrigue the listener’s ears with a degree of confusion before the soft acoustic guitar rhythm brings the listener into the sombre space. The lyrics tell the “story of regret from when [Jen] was fifteen” she tells us, as the lyrics cry out the “where sticks and stones are worse than words, imprisoned in the circle”.
It’s these moments throughout the album where we see Jen draw from her “own personal experiences, relationships, and the small details, the beautiful and the mundane”. Each song is representative of key values within the musical poetry, carrying the listener into the small moments of motherhood and suburban life, whilst examining the broader environmental and political landscape.
The following track ‘World’s On A Wire’ fittingly continues to reflect on the mystery of birds, as Jen says they “represent both beauty and terror in equal measure”. The serene guitar chords send the listener explicitly to the literal, world on a wire, whilst maintaining a reminiscent vibe. The unexpected introduction of the grungy guitar creates a sense of urgency to the song and reflects the abstract landscape and the “confidence and freedom” that Jen reflects on developing whilst in the studio.
“I was dealing with a lot of anxiety and needed to work through that at the same time, and I think I’m more resilient as an artist and a human as a result. But mainly it is the influence that poetry has had on my writing and my more fearless approach to the music in general”. Both Jen and her band reflected on how their sound has evolved into the new and refreshing output since their 2017 album ‘The Night’s Insomnia’, which similarly reflects on the way live poetry in music can be formulated, however, its moments like within ‘Fireground’ that the listener can use the foreboding mood from the rock guitar rhythm to critique the destruction of nature in the 2021 climate.
Following ‘Fireground’ is ‘Glass’, which Jen describes to be “about impermanence through the prism of [her] children”. This sense of fleetingness in time is expertly illustrated through the softness of Jen’s voice that almost serenades to the child listener. The reflection and examination of motherhood and values alike are deep within the prose, where the lyrics ask to “buy me a little time”, alas they are “a leaf in the wind… a house made of clay”.
Jen had grown up experiencing the folk music lifestyle and engaging with the serene nature of the genre, often singing songs with her father and performing alongside him in cover folk bands. It is the “various guises” Jen has seen her discover over her personal songwriting journey however that has led her to create music that is “carefully arranged words, the essence of an idea”. She goes on to say that she “draws imagery from the natural world – trees, the changing skies, the colour of a leaf”, which we can see illustrated in the dreamy landscape “far away from you” in ‘Dust’. Throughout the song, you can almost see the sunset falling beyond the horizon as Jen continues to sing about being far and free.
In comparison to the sense of freedom, ‘Gold Thread’ “speaks of the things that keep me anchored to the world when anxiety sets in”. Jen says that it is the most special track for her as its speaking of vulnerability, anxiety, and depression reflects on the joys in life; “the goldness of the afternoon sun, the hilarious things [Jen’s] children say, and the gold thread that [she] imagines is threading through us all when we are in community with each other”. This kind of reflectiveness is emulated in ‘The Valley’, where Jen sings about “the way I have lived, losing my whole, under all of my clothes, unravelling slowly playing my roles, I’m soldiering on”. These lyrics provide a naked, vulnerable insight into the identity of the inner self in a way that speaks to a listener; a listener who experiences the song in the softly sombre space where the safety of expression is felt.
In complete contrast, the drums in ‘Black Hammer’ establish a sense of urgency and reflects the fierce and unyielding rhythms of dark, primeval drums. The “rockier soundscape emerged out of [Jen’s husband Tobin’s] discontented observations on the political and environmental landscape of our current times” and perhaps illustrate a dystopian critique on our world, alongside letting the “music have a different sound to it because of… the combination of [Jen’s] writing and the way the band interpret it”. Whereas ‘Crush’ creates a sense of character with the listener and allows them to critique such observations also.
The final two tracks, ‘Cinder & Stone’ and ‘Bend The Trees’ expertly ties the album together by offering a sense of resolution to the ideologies each song poses. Identity, motherhood and children, and the political and environmental landscape are all examined between the two songs; whereby the conclusion of the album, the guitar rhythm slowly fades into the distance, taking the album in its entirety with it and leaving listeners begging to return to the landscape of the instrumentation.
Let Loose The Beating Birds beautifully encapsulates both Jen Lush’s experiences, as well as the experience the world has endured throughout the two years of the album’s production. Regardless of the “landscape of restrictions and weirdness”, Jen and her band were still capable of crafting a collection of songs that create an atmospheric tension between the music, listener, and lyrics.