First Impressions: (An Overview on) An Overview on Phenomenal Nature by Cassandra Jenkins

I woke with the cat curled close beside me, seeping in my body heat. He’d let me sleep the morning away, an oddity, so the sun’s rays cascaded through the window blinds like thin slices of light inching across the ceiling when I opened my eyes. When I slipped out from beneath the comforter, I felt the morning chill. I thought when we moved that the South was warmer than the North, but not here, not now. So, as we did years long ago, we turn the heat down at night and then fight the cold each new day. That saves on the electric bill. 

I made store-brand coffee in the Keurig. It smells like coffee brewed in a pot, just not as strong, and tastes fine with the half-and-half I prefer. The carton has a picture of a cow on it. I once bought the store brand, which had an expiration date of several weeks ahead, but it poured with the speckled consistency of powdered creamer and never fully mixed with the black gold. So I now spend an extra dollar for the creamer to blend.

Those paragraphs would no doubt sound profound if I spoke or sang them atop melodies that floated like clouds and beats that anchored them on the ground.

(An Overview on) An Overview on Phenomenal Nature by Cassandra Jenkins collects demos and first takes of songs that appeared on An Overview on Phenomenal Nature earlier this year, plus includes the full monologue by the museum guard that fed into that album’s piece de resistance, “Hard Drive.” The two albums are nuanced sets of contrasts, in a way. The first incarnation of “Hailey,” for instance, circled the universe as light disco before, in its second orbit, settling into something far more fragile. Along the way, both on that track and the others, the seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics are revealed to be crafted undertakings, with the languid melodies punctuated by rhythmic undertows.

The one new song, “American Spirits,” actually dates to before the first Phenomenal Nature; it’s what Jenkins brought producer Josh Kaufman prior to them working together—a spec song, if you will, inspired by a phone call from a friend who found himself stuck in a Texas jail. It would have been the centerpiece for anyone else’s album. It’s an airy wonder.

As a whole, the songs echo not the collective unconscious, but the collective dreamscape. It’s a mesmerizing listen through and through that, though tied to An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, stands on its own. I recommend it.

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