Glassnote Records has had a consistent streak of finding artists/bands whose unique styles don’t always translate on the pop charts but still grow to have their big fan bases. They gave Childish Gambino a platform to deliver his quirky-fun and geek-centric braggadocio raps when people weren’t feeling that vibe. My trust in their scouts is high enough that I go in with an open mind, whomever they decide to promote. I did so with English alternative singer Jade Bird, whose debut left a small impression. Her unique inflection of folk/country/Americana songs has kept my interest going with her follow-up, Different Kinds of Light. She sounds more confident as she delivers these breaths of fresh air instrumentally and melodically, even if the songwriting takes a hit here and there.
Upon finishing the haunting “dkol,” the album begins to take a mold, as it eases from song to song by keeping a consistent sound or melodic range as the previous. It’s their way of creating unified transitions instead of having it played on shuffle. It’s how we go from the compelling “Open up the Heavens” to the jangly “Honeymoon.” The former treads familiar territory of relationship-induced depression/stresses; however, her direction is creative. In the song, she notes a paradox: rain on a sunny day. The water breathes the essence of doubt stemming from past baggage as she reflects on how this person’s love. There are moments where her thoughts give a perfect – simple purview at how the minuscule can feel grandiose.
Unfortunately, there are very few moments where the songwriting takes center stage since it is usually being pushed aside by the colorful production by Dave Cobb.
Dave Cobb is a well-regarded country record producer who has produced albums for Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlisle, and Shooter Jennings, to name a few. His unique style is chameleon-esque as he can morph in tangent with the singer, based on their respective delivery. Whether it is the cadence of Carlisle’s vocal performances to the emotional gracious Chris Stapleton, he has shown himself to be a force in the genre, alongside other record producers. And his work on the album Different Kind of Light is hard to go unnoticed.
Dave Cobb creates smooth friction between the instrumentation and Jade Bird’s beautiful melodies. And with Jade’s old soul-vocals transporting you to the past with these luscious songs, reminiscent of the 70s. “Prototype” and “Candidate” are two of many that take you back; now imagine the 70s, you’re at an outdoor venue, and Patti Smith or Joni Mitchell is commanding the stage. Jade commands a similar presence as she takes you through this journey, even with its many bumps. “Candidate” is infectious and self-righteous, but it isn’t one of Bird’s strongest songs (written). It holds your attention as she sings about having an iron will that she can take the blame like a barrage of bullets. She delivers it with confidence and bravado that the low-bars are no high-hanging fruit. Unlike “Candidate,” “Prototype” is a well-rounded folk-country song, flowing in tangent with overarching themes about her person.
Jade’s weakness as a songwriter becomes apparent in songs that push away from personal relativity and into a world of blind creativity. In the song “Red White and Blue,” she describes a story about this American with PTSD and the kind of life he may have lived prior. She weaves in metaphors of the lost and confused, tormented by sad and disturbing events throughout their lives. It’s an odd song about the irony that is American patriotism in the military, but it falls flatter than Jennifer Lawrence at the Academy Awards.
Jade Bird’s writing lacks structure as it takes shortcuts to connect verses with weak choruses. There are plenty of times she keeps your ears engaged with beautiful melodies like on the song “Houdini.” You’re left feeling empty after the lifeless song tries to reach without making compelling arguments. If it isn’t for the melodies, you’d most likely end up feeling detached. Some occasions had me pulling back a bit, like on “Honeymoon,” which doesn’t hold any barrings and rows away until she returns with “Punchline,” my favorite song off the album. She challenges her relationship with the notion that her significant other cruises emotionally because he sees himself as the top dog.
Despite this, it doesn’t make it harder to consume (in stride) the different lights that shine upon the songs. Jade Bird sets the mood and lets the album run loose with rampant-fun or emotionally driven melodies. And this benefits the album’s replayability, as the context of the songs drags through with some familiar themes. Jade Bird tends to lose the listener, here and there, as the familiarity becomes apparent enough to deter. It isn’t to discredit her abilities, but she is sometimes not interesting. For Jade, having Dave Cobb produce has let her shine through the simplicity.
Different Kind of Light is expressive and full of glamorous production, which makes you forget that Jade Bird is still honing her skills as a songwriter. She has shown a lot of maturity between this and her debut, you’re almost in awe. From hearing live performances on BBC1 Live Lounge and her radiant vocal range, there is something within that is growing. There are loose pedals blossoming, showing us she can carry these various emotional inflections on a genre that isn’t alway keen on outlaws (country).