I See You Among The Stars is the new album from Jessica Risker. This is a collection of material from an artist who, throughout her career, has seemed gleefully unaware of what may be expected of her. We’ve previously heard albums of music-box lullabies, or easier access DIY basement tracks. The result of Risker’s efforts this time is a sequence of songs whose quality resonates in subtle tones. Let’s talk about it for a bit.
We previously shared the sepia-tinged psychedelic “I Cut My Hair” – a song of sincere intimacy that was as brave as it was sensitive. The theme of vulnerability plays out across the other seven tracks of I See You Among The Stars, and what’s delivered is a spaced-out kind of courage. Tracks are populated with the kind of subjects that we all touch upon under the cover of darkness, when a certain kind of smoke makes honesty possible, and for some reason we see things more clearly than if they appeared in bright sunlight.
Risker has a voice that melts whatever it touches. Even a simple four-count at the start of the title track sounds like the internal voice that quietly reassures you that you can handle whatever’s about to happen. Instead of counting “One. Two. Three. Four.” she may as well be saying “You. Can. Do. This.” There’s a misty comfort to her breathing patterns that makes even the most difficult subjects possible to explore.
“Anway When I Look In Your Eyes” gives a good example of how her fluid approach performs a kind of Tai Chi in the vocal range. In softness there is strength. “Anyway when I look in your eyes / I see the trees in calmer skies / two fingers turn the knob on the radio / The Beatles, laughing” Opens the verse, and we access the kinds of association that appeal to the artist. Nature, intimacy, reflection, legends, and the human scale that reveal the bigger truths. The sound of a passing train closes out the track, but it’s an ambient, not a rythmic noise – just the kind of place where we lose our thinking and start feeling. It’s a grand touch.
Instrumentation across the songs sometimes sounds like it comes from opposing angles, but it does nothing to jolt concentration. Risker seems more focused on nurturing a vision; bringing seeds to life, than she is making forceful impact with sonic gimmickry. Tones are compared more than forced into contrast. This is psychedelic folk, but it’s more than psychedelic folk. What’s a better word term than ‘psychedelic folk’?
Despite the hallucinatory effects of lyrical suggestion we’re not in the territory of creative pharmaceuticals. There’s a purity of purpose with the material of this album. There are echos of Vashti Bunyan – a singer who once abandoned her musical career, feeling out of step with the audiences of the ’70’s. Risker is perfectly at home in her generation – but the sensitivity, the ‘nowness’, and near-clairvoyance of tracks like “Reassign Me” and “Help Me Help Me” bring the kind of honesty that render the artist transparent. She is heroically vulnerable.
It’s the near-naked appraisal of things – especially toward the tail-end of the sequence – that carries a disarming heart. “Reassign Me” carries the shimmering darkness of a track like “Stranger Song” from early era Cohen. Jessica Risker gives the impression of an artist who has spent longer listening to, and absorbing pains, than she has expressing them. When she speaks she speaks with gravity, and a simple breed of poetry which is of the highest kind.
Moments of unusual light, and altered realities, bring breezier passages. “A Cooling Sun” twists expectation. Stars are referenced again, as they are at other places, and Jessica Risker mythologizes process, but without pretense or aspiration. She’s simply looking for patterns in order to make sense of things. The enquiry is perhaps as rewarding as any answers that are uncovered. It’s the subconsciousness of these songs that offers reward in repeat listening.
“I See You Among The Stars” is a phrase that addresses the over-felt emotion of Risker’s affections. The sense of longing that permeates these songs is tangible. The self-awareness achieved through reflection is substantial, but the artist is honest about what remains confusing. These are lessons that Risker has occupied herself in learning, and yet magic, and unknowables remain. It’s great.
As an album “I See You Among The Stars” is a statement that insinuates itself into your consciousness. There is something deeply comforting in a collection that doesn’t shout for attention, but rather waits for the listener to lean in, before whispering a secret or two.
Damn, I love this album.
HURRY – LISTEN – JESSICA RISKER