Andy Partridge of XTC fame has launched his Ape House label and handpicks who will and will not appear on it, favoring the offbeat but not the whacked-out, the uber-fringe, or, well, the talentless. That is, he's certainly not underwriting the—I'll charitably call them 'musicians'—Irwin Chusid tends to favor in his 'outsider music' journalism (simultaneously inducting true geniuses [Harry Partch, Capt. Beefheart, etc.] to legitimate what otherwise is a socio-anthropological curiosity posing as mindfulness to exceedingly questionable 'art'). I mention this because you wouldn't believe some of the indie stuff that passes through a critic's hands, and the spate of bizarre oddities aping Wing, Wesley Willis, and Wildman Fischer (hmmm, maybe it's a W thing) has a lot of consumers rightly trepidatious of that which can't append to a pre-marketed and proven commodity in some fashion.
Jen Olive is basically a folk-cum-pop singer who apparently was influenced by Stereolab, Beck, and assorted other odd musicians with electronically adjusted consciousnesses. Well, XTC wasn't exactly Barry Manilow either, so the attraction between musician and producer, who also plays here, isn't all that unexpected. It's a very cool collaboration in even the baseline mechanics: Olive sent Partridge foundation tracks backed by suggestions of what she desired by way of percussive hints and suggestions, doing so through the use of rocks, wine bottles, and wooden blocks. Partridge, intrigued by the young woman well before receiving these unusual submissions, not only understood where she was going but added his own peculiarly apt eccentricities. The result is a CD that'll take a little getting used to, precisely because it sounds so familiar and so foreign simultaneously. I'm quite sure PR guy Howard Wuelfing saw the 'weird folk' kindredness and picked the disc up for that reason, possessing laser sight for such things. Warm Robot channels itself exceedingly well in that regard—as solidly, in fact, as any such CD I've yet heard. The key is a progressive mind.
Did I say Olive's a folker? Well, basically, she is, but there's more than a little jazz to this girl (Wire Wire), a touch of Annette Peacock, some Bjork, and quite a ladleful of originality. She's not afraid to experiment with her voice while never going too far—as Meredith Monk and others have done—residing more in Joni Mitchell's mid-period territory (Querquehouse). Atop that, ethereality, cosmic asides, earthen vibes, and wispy beauty all figure in heavily. Start with Claustrophobe if you want to see just how deeply. However, by the time you've adjusted to the quirky nature of this adventurous potpourri—and it will only take the first few songs—you're hooked, transcending to a new clime, wondering if Coleridge mightn't have had the right idea, what with his delirious opium visions and all, now transcribed sonically in Warm Robot.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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