Jane Siberry: C/D, S/D

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Not that I don't already have an opinion (largely classicky), but I was thinking of writing something vague about her for skykicking, and it struck me that she hasn't really been discussed on ILM. Which is odd, because there's so much there to discuss: Is Jane a part of that enormous female singer-songwriter tradition, or is she something else? Was her attempt to marry pop and avant garde successful or merely uncomfortable? Is meticulous construction better or worse than 'loose' flow? How can/should an artist transplant their 'essence' from one genre to another, and then to another? Where does diversity become mere eclecticism? How should stream-of-consciousness lyrics work, exactly? How much OTT eighties-production can you take in one sitting?

When Marcello described Mary Margeret O'Hara as picking up threads from Kate Bush, I instantly thought, "...with Jane Siberry's The Walking in a mediating role, right?"

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 04:48 (seventeen years ago) link

I only know her When I Was a Boy album, which I picked up after being captivated by her contribution to the Until the End of the World soundtrack. I'm sorry to report that it was a Sarah McLachlan-level piece of proto-Lilith mush, gauzy Eno production and all. Destroy that sucker.

Curt (cgould), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 06:52 (seventeen years ago) link

everything reminds me of my dog
the guy in the store reminds me of my dog
telephones remind me of my dog...yoohoo
taxicabs remind me too

if you remind me of my dog
we'll probably git along little doggie
git along git along little doggie git a...


I saw her live in Auckland many years ago and she was pretty classic - plus I got a cool t-shirt with the above lyrics, so bonus points for that.

gazza, Wednesday, 6 November 2002 08:35 (seventeen years ago) link

Tim - I think Siberry happens at the point where the, erm, Joni Mitchell/Ricki Lee Jones kooky folk auteur tradition meets Laurie Anderson conceptualism (kind of where Bush might have ended up if she had continued in the Fairlight vein of 'Running up that hill'). (I know that sounds like a terrible rendez-vous, but it isn't... always).

I have lost touch with the Siberry ouevre since the jazzy piano lp ('Maria'?) and the retreat into vanity labels. (So I would be interested if anyone thinks the subsequent lps are worth getting [and which ones]).

I have a huge soft spot for 'Speckless Sky', production and all, but I think the four Reprise lps are the ones to look for (and probably the easiest to get hold of). 'The Walking' may be the best of these. 'Bound by the beauty' was an odd, countryish, left turn, and a bit of a disappointment to me at the time, but the first three or four songs are still great... I can even deal with the more whimsical moments now. I think Curt is too hard on 'When I was a boy': any record that has 'Calling all angels' and 'Love is everything' on it can't be all bad. (Although some of the other tracks - 'The Gospel according to darkness'- were too indulgent even for me). I also love 'Sweet Incarnadine' - I wish she would do more in that Buckleyish avant-jazz direction. 'Maria' IS her jazz lp, and trails off into indulgence again, but still has great moments (I like dancing around to 'Begat Begat'!) (I think Steadymike is a fan of the production, too).

I think there was a productive tension on the major label lps between the record company's desire to market her as a singer-songwriter kookstress and Siberry's more avant/idiosyncratic meanderings. The danger is that once she's freed from this tension she gives up the fight of appealing to a larger audience and retreats in cultdom. That said, she is a great, under-appreciated, individualist, who has resisted the urge to stay in one place or play safe. I'll be interested to see what you write, Tim.


Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 10:44 (seventeen years ago) link

Jerry I don't think she's actually done a "proper" album since Maria - rather five or six releases of live stuff, lullabyes, repackaged collections etc, all of which I'm reliably informed are inessential. It's like she's afraid to write anything new.

I actually really really like Maria, either in spite or because of my limited experience with jazz. I think the improvisational approach gives the songs the elasticity she needs; before that she had to go to extraordinary lengths to extract the right feel from her machines and her session players (one term that pops into my head when I listen to The Speckless Sky and The Walking is "bloody-minded"). On Maria her wandering songs seem much more natural and, as a result, oddly more tightly structured - the sheer inevitability (and I mean that in a good sense) of the slides into darkness on "See The Child" and "Would You Go" make them among the most impressive and affecting pieces she's recorded.

I agree re: When I Was A Boy being problematic - "The Gospel According To Darkness" has an awkward motivational feel to it that does Jane's intensely individual persona a disservice, but then stuff like "Sail Across The Water" and "All The Candles In The World" are pretty thrilling.

What I find most interesting about Jane right now is that, for all her "breaks" from the traditional singer-songwriter mould, she has one of the most impressive collections of love songs under her belt that I can think of (in quality if not quality). "The Taxi Ride", "Goodbye", "The Walking (And Constantly", "The Lobby", "The Valley", "Love Is Everything" and "Goodbye Sweet Pumpkinhead" - these could all very easily be standards (though I wonder how many of them would survive a singer with a stronger voice).

I particularly love the staged argument with the waiter in "Goodbye" over whether she can get a table for one - "Don't you want my business? I will never come back here" becomes, improbably, a near-heartbreaking moment.

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 13:04 (seventeen years ago) link

Absolutely incredibly classic!
Search: No Borders Here, Bound By the Beauty and The Speakless Sky.
Destroy: When I Was a Boy and onwards. Well destroy is a harsh word for the later albums, maybe "ignore" would be a better category.

I gather he big triumph is supposed to be When I Was a BOy but I just don't enjoy that album. Sarah Mclaghlin had come along and was making better albums for sometime at that point.

While Jane has "The Waitress", "Bound By The Beauty", "Mimi On The Beach" and "Something About Trains" [I love trains] neither Jane or Sarah have made a full album as great as M^2OH.

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 15:27 (seventeen years ago) link

Mean. Utterly mean...how can you say that When I Was a Boy should be destroyed? I had previously been a huge Jane fan, and had even made a road trip through the Canadian winter to see her on the Walking tour, but I was still stunned when that one came out because she actually proved that she not only was capable of writing straight-ahead tunes when she wanted to (she had already done that on Bound by the Beauty, but she could also make those songs heartbreakingly beautiful, too. Even trying to compare it to Sarah is an insult to the album, I feel...as much as I used to enjoy Sarah's earlier work, there really was more angst than depth in a lot of it, and Jane had never written a song as mind-bogglingly banal as "Ice Cream". (Even "Everything Reminds Me of My Dog" had a point and the "git along little doggie" parts were nowhere near as cringe-inducing as "your love is better than chocolate".)

Back to Jane...be honest: The Walking, even though it's one of her best albums from a compositional and performance standpoint, it's one of those albums that really demands your attention--for that reason I don't put it on all that often, even though I love it. And Bound by the Beauty reverses course and is almost too slight in a lot of places, trading her usual depth for quick little pop ditties...but that's also selling Beauty short, because some of those tracks are absolutely wonderful, like "Hockey" or "Something About Trains". (This conflict initially made me hate the album...I was expecting something even more grand and convoluted than The Walking, but now with some hindsight I realize that would have been an incredibly bad idea. Of course, I've warmed up to the album a lot.)

My sentimental favourite is probably The Speckless Sky, because it was my real introduction to her albums (having shrugged off "Mimi on the Beach" as a bit too wonko when I saw the video for it earlier on), and because I won a copy of it from the CBC...AND JANE EVEN READ MY NAME OUT AS ONE OF THE WINNERS! Yay! I used to have an autographed poster from that same contest, but I'm not really sure what happened to it. I think someone helpfully threw it out for me, dammit. Anyhow, it contains some of her absolute best work...how can you argue with an album that has "One More Colour", "Map of the World Pt 2" AND "The Taxi Ride"? Tim's right to point out "The Taxi Ride"...one of my favourite love (lost) songs ever.

For me, the end was definitely Maria. There are some good moments on the album, but precious few. Worse still, I don't think the style really suited Jane all that much, and what should have been the album's saving grace, the 20-minute album closer, was more an endurance test than anything. Since that point there's been nothing much happening for those who loved what she did up until that point...a collection of live releases, collections of older material and recent reworkings of older material, and most baffling, A Day in the Life, which follows her around NYC for a day.

Jane is one of my perennial faves, and while I certainly admire her artistic integrity, choosing to release whatever the hell she wants to, even it's a breakdown of her day, I really wish she'd get it together to do an old-style album with brand new material and a full band.

Sean Carruthers (SeanC), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 16:18 (seventeen years ago) link

I didnt say Sarah had not hit the lowest of the lows but When I Was A Boy came out during her hightide. Maybe its cause I've blocked "Ice Cream" from my memory. I've heard it covered by smug little unviersity female singer/song writers/acoustic guitar players (its male counterpart is "Brick" for those keeping score). No matter how bad they play it, the song always makes me cringe.
That still tie down Fumlbing Towards Ecasty or Solace. Touch isn't half bad either since its mostly not her work.

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 16:33 (seventeen years ago) link

Nine years before we met, the Nipper and I were in the same Bloomsbury Theatre audience for a Siberry show; sometime in '99 we saw her again (was it at the 12 Bar?), and she somehow made us enjoy an evening which was 50% spoken-word and "hey, why don't we just talk about something?" awkwardness. Perhaps it was the heartstopping "The Empty City".

I think of The Walking as one of those stone-cold untouchable gems that I really shouldn't ever listen to again in case I discover I was even more wrong at 21 than I half-suspect I was (see also: House Tornado, Secrets of the Beehive...). I'm with Jerry on almost everything else, and I think he places her just right, though I suspect having the loose sprawl of Maria across two cassettes makes it easier for me to digest. I too was utterly nonplussed by the envelope-ignoring Bound by the Beauty in '89; I love much of it now.

I noticed in Borders the other day there's a double-CD career-spanning thing available now, which I'd, er, love to see at the local library. I never did venture back to the first LP (which was available on import vinyl for a while in the late 80s), or check out that Summer In The Yukon comp. The only recent thing I have is the re-recording of her juvenilia - Teenager - which has some glorious weightless moments (and is practically a case study in how to beautifully record harmonies and acoustic guitar). I really don't mind a bit of mawk when it's Jane.

Michael Jones (MichaelJ), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 16:33 (seventeen years ago) link

I likes her. :-) More eloquent things have been said on the thread, though -- I'll just note that I really do like her Christmas live album that came out, it's a good combination of both carols and seasonal songs that's very affecting.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 6 November 2002 18:47 (seventeen years ago) link

I love No Borders Here and Speckless Sky, but I just didn't connect with the two subsequent LPs of hers that I have (one of which is BBTB), they had much of the experimental touches removed, and that was mostly what I liked. This thread may make me go back to them. She does have one of the most winceworthy puns in music - "You can't cut down symmetry."

nickn (nickn), Thursday, 7 November 2002 21:58 (seventeen years ago) link

i got into janey when i was doing college radio in the mid-80's, a demo copy of her first record. i've kinda liked all of her, and loved some of her...much to the chagrin of some music friends o' mine. but without a doubt, hands down, no question: when i was a boy is her masterpiece.

m_s

mojo_slice, Friday, 8 November 2002 06:31 (seventeen years ago) link

two years pass...
I was going to revive this thread to say how much I love Jane's love songs, then noticed that I already had.

I'm interested in hearing k d lang's versions of "The Valley" and "Love is Everything".

But nothing else ever comes close to "The Taxi Ride": "I can win you with reason/I can make you agree/the way that I love you/it only makes sense that you love me"

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Tuesday, 4 October 2005 05:51 (fourteen years ago) link

I like Jane. Especially No Borders Here and Speckless Sky. Don't say 'dud' till you hear those. The Walking & Bound by the Beauty have some great songs as well. Something went definitely went plain on When I Was A Boy though.

Jerry Casale directed a beautiful video for 'One More Colour', and the video for 'Ingrid and the Footman' -- classic.

milton parker (Jon L), Tuesday, 4 October 2005 06:09 (fourteen years ago) link

I was surprised and pleased to see "Calling All Angels" getting the Aimee Mann/'Magnolia' treatment in '6 Feet Under' the other day.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Tuesday, 4 October 2005 06:20 (fourteen years ago) link

two months pass...
Saying it again, her holiday album's just plain great.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 9 December 2005 18:52 (fourteen years ago) link

four months pass...
I absolutely love Jane Siberry. I own No Borders Here, The Speckless Sky, The Walking (my absolute favorite), When I Was A Boy, and A Day In The Life. I think she's phenomenal, and everything she does is just simply unlike the project before it. I've also spoken to her a good many times (via her official site) and she's a very down-to-earth person. Very funny and sweet. You can tell that she loves what she does.

hmm, what?, Sunday, 23 April 2006 02:40 (thirteen years ago) link

jean siberry is the epitome of hoe.

M@tt He1geson (Matt Helgeson), Sunday, 23 April 2006 04:49 (thirteen years ago) link

"No Borders Here" is an amazing record. It sounds like a folk icon trapped in new wave. The next two records are brilliant as well.

But otherwise, her musical career is a tragedy. Begins so great and goes rotten so slowly.

Advise everybody to see her live, though. She's the most compelling "singer-songwriter" I've ever seen.

She appeared onstage at a songwriter's circle style show. The other musicians were a singer Maren Ord, the singer from Spirit Of The West, and the rapper Snow. It started uncomfortable, then got kind of nasty. Snow invited his bus driver out to sing a song, and afterwards, Jane said, "Sounds like the wrong person is driving the bus." Amazing!

Owen Pallett (Owen Pallett), Sunday, 23 April 2006 08:24 (thirteen years ago) link

She's an amazing live artist who doesn't get out nearly enough. Stuff that's cringe-worthy on record is often devastating live -- although I like the underproduction of some of the Sheba albums a fair bit.

There's at least one more killer album coming out from her, I just know it.

Colin Meeder (Mert), Sunday, 23 April 2006 10:15 (thirteen years ago) link

two years pass...

I just heard a track by her called 'One More Color'. It's good! I should try to hear more of her records. I like the late-1980s keyboards (if that's what they are).

the pinefox, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 12:24 (ten years ago) link

"One More Color" is good but there's stuff from its parent album (The Speckless Sky - 1985 actually) and her subsequent album The Walking that are a gazillion times better.

She's probably the finest breakups songwriter I can think of.

Tim F, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 12:44 (ten years ago) link

i like jamming "extra executives" off no borders...
i have a friend who has heard me dj it who calls me now every couple of weeks and asks me how to spell her name again, and which album etc. he is haunted by that track!

noizez duk, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:04 (ten years ago) link

video for 'one more colour' directed by Jerry Casale of Devo

Milton Parker, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:10 (ten years ago) link

funny thread revive, this weekend I went through 'Jane Siberry' / 'No Borders Here' / 'Speckless Sky' / 'The Walking' in one fell swoop, I still love those records to the song

Milton Parker, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:11 (ten years ago) link

She is now performing under the name Issa, appears to have gone 'round the bend.

Three Word Username, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:20 (ten years ago) link

one year passes...

Jane has been pay-what-you-can for some time now, but now she's gone 'free'. You can get her albums--all of them- here: http://janesiberry.com/janesiberry/music.html

At my Jane-fan friend's insistence I'm spending some time with the Issa records. I saw her twice as Issa and it was *great*, just her and a tiny guitar. On record, I was expecting something stripped down, but they are extremely complex, ProTools records, they remind me eerily of "The Getty Address" more than anything. I like them? I need to listen to them a few more times.

I'm considering seeing if there are any tickets remaining for these London 'salon' gigs in June, feel oddly reticent to go to a gig in a 7th floor Fitzrovia apartment tho'.

double shyamalan (MaresNest), Sunday, 16 May 2010 17:12 (nine years ago) link

Is she doing some more? I thought they'd come and gone. I know she played someone's living room in Brockley a month or so ago.

Michael Jones, Sunday, 16 May 2010 17:33 (nine years ago) link

Yep, three London dates in there, two in Fitzrovia and one in Arsenal.

double shyamalan (MaresNest), Sunday, 16 May 2010 17:35 (nine years ago) link

I wasn't really aware of the Issa records' existence - can someone please summarise??

Tim F, Sunday, 16 May 2010 22:50 (nine years ago) link

apparently she has gone back to being jane siberry.

akm, Sunday, 16 May 2010 23:07 (nine years ago) link

Thanks for this Ówen - I've known about the Issa records for quite some time but have tiptoed around them, as I was too afraid to be really let down by them. Now I'll be sure to give them a proper listen.

Sean Carruthers, Sunday, 16 May 2010 23:53 (nine years ago) link

I second Ned Raggett: Search for Child, her Christmas album. It captures the essence of what is best about Christmas better than any other album. And what is best about Christmas? A group of people in a warm room on a cold night, happy for the warmth and the camaraderie.

(Plus it contains the short poem "A Bitter Christmas," which is a stitch.)

Dodo Lurker (Slim and Slam), Monday, 17 May 2010 01:11 (nine years ago) link

It also contains a shatteringly great version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" that never fails to give me chills and cause me to tear up at the same time. It is note perfect.

Ned Raggett, Monday, 17 May 2010 01:22 (nine years ago) link

three years pass...

i notice that she no longer has either pay what you want or free downloads on her site.

akm, Friday, 13 December 2013 06:44 (six years ago) link

I just picked up Child yesterday actually! Looking forward to some christmas spirit.

Tim F, Friday, 13 December 2013 07:14 (six years ago) link

four years pass...

I am another "captivated by her contribution to the Until the End of the World soundtrack." hoping it goes better for me than cgould. but then "a Sarah McLachlan-level piece of proto-Lilith mush, gauzy Eno production and all" sounds like something I could get into.

the poster's anxiety at the suggested ban (Sufjan Grafton), Tuesday, 6 March 2018 18:06 (one year ago) link

Thought this was a revive for a mention of her Magic The Dog webstore. Bought a couple pair of chicken leg socks for Xmas gifts, and had good service.

the body of a spider... (scampering alpaca), Tuesday, 6 March 2018 18:14 (one year ago) link

eight months pass...

listened to The Walking due to the comparisons in the Julia Holter thread and it's completely astounding

ufo, Wednesday, 7 November 2018 15:38 (one year ago) link

yeah it’s the best album ever made

princess of hell (BradNelson), Wednesday, 7 November 2018 15:44 (one year ago) link

Another recent convert from the Julia Holter thread here. That last track is quite a thing. It's vast and the production is clearly aiming for epic, but there's something contained about it, almost kitchen-sink.

Have the Rams stopped screaming yet, Lloris? (Chinaski), Wednesday, 7 November 2018 16:05 (one year ago) link

She's the most seriously underrated artist. I got into her when I was 19 or so and bought The Rough Guide To Rock and picked up "When I Was A Boy" off that book's recommendation. Initially I was more enchanted by the "good" sounding stuff-- "When I Was A Boy" and "Maria"-- and I viewed the tinny production of her first five albums as "less preferable" or something. There are so many weird warts on her oeuvre, chief amongst them the "entirely extremely and oddly consistently flat vocal performance on the song from The Crow OST", but now these "warts" are part of my love of what she did/what she does.

fgti is for (flamboyant goon tie included), Wednesday, 7 November 2018 16:44 (one year ago) link

I will investigate further for sure.

xp last track off The Walking, that is.

Have the Rams stopped screaming yet, Lloris? (Chinaski), Wednesday, 7 November 2018 16:53 (one year ago) link

i still think When I Was a Boy is a huge crowning masterpiece of an album. Really underrated and overlooked.

akm, Thursday, 8 November 2018 13:32 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

I've been discovering her 80s albums this week: they're phenomenal! Especially "No Borders Here" and "The Walking." I didn't realize there was a missing link between Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson, but here we are.

goodoldneon, Tuesday, 14 January 2020 21:05 (two weeks ago) link

Also the Fairlight CMI sounds on "The Walking" are so great

goodoldneon, Tuesday, 14 January 2020 21:06 (two weeks ago) link

I didn't realize there was a missing link between Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson, but here we are.

She was exactly that for me! I think I bought Mister Heartbreak, The Walking and Hejira the same week in 1988. (I'd known Big Science for a while, of course, and the Joni hits).

THIRTY TWO YEARS AGO. Holy Mother of Mary Margaret.

Michael Jones, Wednesday, 15 January 2020 12:55 (two weeks ago) link

...O'Hara

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Wednesday, 15 January 2020 17:53 (two weeks ago) link

My wife is a big fan of Siberry. We saw her in a small suburban DC club out in Virginia last year.

curmudgeon, Thursday, 16 January 2020 05:23 (one week ago) link

For the curious, I recommend the excellent Love is Everything compilation album. As a casual fan, it's all I need.

van dyke parks generator (anagram), Thursday, 16 January 2020 09:44 (one week ago) link

I picked up The Walking last year, have been hearing/humming "The White Tent The Raft" in all my daily perambulations ever since :)

geoffreyess, Thursday, 16 January 2020 21:13 (one week ago) link

The tracklist for Love is Everything is excellent, though not including "Hockey" or "The Valley" or "See The Child" is just ????

I mean how can you look past a song with the lyric "This stick was signed by jean belliveau / so don't fucking tell me where to fucking go"?

Apart from those, it's hardly surprising that "The White Tent, The Raft" and "The Bird in the Gravel" are left off (and it's hard to be churlish about her including three songs from The Walking, though I think "Goodbye" could also easily fit on a best-of), but these two tracks are very close to my conception of "peak Jane".

Tim F, Thursday, 16 January 2020 22:01 (one week ago) link


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