Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jeen O'Brien Blows Out Like A Tourist

Jeen O'Brien
The first time I was introduced to Jeen O'Brien, it was as a member of Cookie Duster. The band plays a certain brand of vanilla pop. It clearly has talent, just not the kind of tunes played around here daily.

Her solo work is all together different. It shows off a diversity that comes from being a singer-songwriter who splits her time writing for bands like Great Big Sea, Serena Ryder, and Martin "Doc" McKinney and producing music for commercials and television programs (including the theme song for the cult cartoon Ruby Gloom). Her life is music.

Chances are that you've heard her work and never knew it. Or maybe you heard dozens of compositions without ever knowing the connection. Expect to hear a whole lot more from her.

Tourist is an indie pop-rock sampler set, mostly unmarried to any one sound. 

For commercial songwriters, surrendering personal style for someone else is considered an asset. But for a recording artist, it presents a different kind of challenge in that it makes locking in an identity so much more difficult. When you can sound like anything, it's harder to pin down the sound that's you.

This challenge is ever-present on Tourist with her repertoire bouncing back and forth between indie pop, indie rock, and alternative. The album might have been written with a beginning, middle, and end in mind, but it's difficult to hear it while Jeen explores everywhere her career has taken her.

Much of the music, she says, was conceived and recorded in an attic. But even so, she never wanted to release the material as a bunch of singles. There is a story here, even if her versatility makes it harder to hear. Give it time to settle in as the album opens with Buena Vista.

Buena Vista begins as an expectant alternative rock song that slowly introduces a pop infusion in the post-chorus verse until the tone of it takes over entirely. Somehow it all works, partly because she brings back the alternative open to anchor the track in the closing seconds. But at the same time, the opener is much like the album in that you'll find favorites only to hear her drift away from them.

No Fade is a jarring change up on the first listen with its indie rock open and poppy chorus, but it also gives the album its legs. The stripped back composition feels a bit familiar while it makes a point. Jeen can take her music anywhere, which she does again in the folksy lullaby Backyard.

On first listen, it doesn't feel like Backyard fits the album until you consider the lyrical breakdown. It tells as much about her as an artist as it does her art. Some of her songs have an edge, but mostly she follows her heart while longing for sunshine or dreaming of the best that a big city offers.

For the balance of the album, she settles into an indie rock verse with pop choruses that effectively balance her dueling musical muses. The exception is the lullaby closer Orange, a light easy listening folk pop ballad with a piano accompaniment. It's a beautiful piece, out of place or not.

For standouts, listen to the lyrical wisdom of Everywhere I Go, the plunky opening notes of Golden, and the solemn undercurrents of Summertime. Hole In My Heart and Way Up are as different as any two tracks on the album, with the latter being grittier than the buoyancy of her poppier numbers.

Tourist By Jeen Travels 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Although Jeen and her debut solo album Tourist feel mildly confused at times, Jeen O'Brien does a remarkably great job at breaking the confines of closely aligned genres to create something wholly original. Tourist is an exceptional debut that expresses the wildly diverse talents of a singer-songwriter who has stood behind the scenes for far too long. Guest appearances included Great Big Sea on track 6 and Brendan Canning (Broken Social Scene) on track 10.

You can find Tourist on Amazon or download it from iTunes. For more news about Jeen and possible appearances, find her on Facebook. What you'll find is that Jeen is one of the original cool kids. It's rightly time she was recognized as such.
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