Album of the Week: The Voyager by Jenny Lewis

Expect greatness from a woman who dons a prismatic pantsuit, especially when that woman is Jenny Lewis.

It’s been a while since Jenny Lewis last graced humanity with a solo album – six years! I mean, we’ve heard Jenny -since “Acid Tongue” came out, Jenny & Johnny released “I’m Having Fun Now,” Rilo Kiley’s b-side album “R-Kives” came out, and she toured with The Postal Service – but we haven’t heard just Jenny since 2008. Remember what the world was like then?

I should probably go ahead and admit my bias. Some dislike Lewis because she incorporates older styles of music into her work. I, on the other hand, have spent years blasting affiliated albums in my car and, okay, everywhere, and cried when I saw her in June. So yes, I’ve been looking forward to “The Voyager” and more music from one of my queens.

How to describe this album, though? I’ve named the sound Cosmic California. Not just cosmic like space, but also like the 70s.

How to describe this album, though? I’ve named the sound Cosmic California. Not just cosmic like space, but also like the 70s. But true to Lewis’ fashion, there’s plenty of sadness, particularly in “She’s Not Me,” “Slippery Slopes,” and “The Voyager.”

The album starts off dreamily, with “Head Underwater,” which I imagine as the soundtrack to a ride in a Mustang through the desert on a distant moon. Like I said, dreamy. “Head Underwater” glides into “She’s Not Me,” the ballad of a regretful cheater complete with a guitar solo that’s very Fleetwood Mac. Coupled with lyrics such as “Bet you tell her I’m crazy,” this song is the ultimate pity party, and hence my favorite of the album.

“Just One of the Guys,” the album’s first single, claimed the throne as one of the summer’s feminist anthems. When you actively listen, it’s depressing, but it’s so catchy even my two-year-old sister likes it. The only thing better is the music video, which features Anne Hathaway, Brie Larson, and Kristen Stewart in drag – there’s also break dancing.

“Slippery Slopes” sounds familiar, probably because it borrows melodies from Rilo Kiley and Jenny & Johnny singles “Under the Blacklight” and “Big Wave.”  There’s also a hazy effect, with lots of distorted guitar and a drowsier singing style, that echoes the slippery slopes – whiskey, mushrooms, coke – mentioned in the lyrics.  The song sounds like a feeling – the feeling of wanting somebody so badly you’re willing to share.

“Just One of the Guys,” the album’s first single, claimed the throne as one of the summer’s feminist anthems. When you actively listen, it’s depressing, but it’s so catchy even my two-year-old sister likes it.

I don’t like admitting this, but I’m not as fond of “The Voyager’s” middle tracks. Maybe it’s because I heard songs at the head and the tail much sooner, or maybe because there are three slow songs in a row. I really don’t know. After that section, you’re hit with a change in mood and timbre courtesy of “Aloha & The Three Johns” and “Love U Forever,” which are the most fun songs on the album and hit me with a wave of nostalgia for an era I never lived through.

The final track, “The Voyager,” with its simple instrumentation, musings on heaven, and touches of strings and keyboard, is beautiful – then you realize it’s about a spaceship blowing up. It’s still a pretty song, though, especially with all that poignancy, and a great track to listen to when you’re feeling really down (trust me.) It’s a completely fitting way to end the album – what better way to bid goodbye than to draw upon the ultimate farewell?

Whether you love her or loathe her (Deal with it!), Jenny Lewis has made this summer hers. Now that we can hold and cradle physical copies of “The Voyager,” (Sorry, NPR First Listen, but it’s not the same) her reign over 2014 is all the more powerful. And you know what? I don’t think she’s done yet.

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