Currently based in London, Jelly Cleaver describes herself as a “singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, bringer of good vibes and cosmic truths”, and that’s the closest you could get to her in so few words. If you find the phrase “cosmic truths” a little scary, don’t worry. There are plenty of down-to-earth truths, too. When I saw Jelly Cleaver play at this year’s LOUD WOMEN Fest, I knew I was seeing something special. With just her voice and her guitar she charmed a whole room. With this album, Jelly Cleaver might charm a whole world.
Jelly’s debut album ‘Cure for an Existential Crisis: Four Suites and One Song Exploring the Crisis of Living and the Fear of Death’ is not for the faint-hearted. The title alone ought to tell you that, but just in case that wasn’t clear, I’m telling you, too. This is not an album you pop on and forget you are listening to. This is an album to listen to on a grey day when the world is troubling and you want to get to know yourself a little better. It reminds me a lot of early Laura Marling in that it’s like being taken on a trip that shows the everyday to you afresh, revealing the hidden passions we usually let our gaze skip over.
The music is stirring and spiritual, and a genuine pleasure to listen to. At the centre are Jelly’s vocals (delivered with care and nuance and stretching gorgeously both high and low) and her guitar (ranging from a soft acoustic instrument to an electric force that builds tension and rhythm). But the two are surrounded and lifted up by a swell of music. Jelly herself plays 10 instruments on this record, but she also drafted in an orchestra. On her Bandcamp page it’s described as symphonic folk, and that’s just right.
The whole album is stunning, and filled with lovely lyrics about sophisticated topics. See ‘Secret Pt. 2’:
I wonder what you think happiness is.
We are bounded by the boundaries of our understanding.
If you understood the world ,you would not stand for half of these things.
‘The Migrant’ somehow manages to be topically political, sensitive, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time, and ‘I Was Thinking’ is pretty and philosophical in a way very few things are. But my favourite stretch of the album is Suite Two: Songs to Lost Love. ‘Caged Bird’ makes its own lovely niche, despite calling to my mind both Maya Angelou and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’. ‘The Holy Father’ sounds like a folk song I’ve forgotten and suddenly remembered, with soaring vocals and even a little tambourine, I think. ‘Southwark Cathedral’ is all desire and longing and mystery. This is an album you listen to with your full attention, an album to listen to over and over, an album that asks you and makes you stop and just… listen.
Follow her on Facebook, buy the album, go see her when she plays. Treat yourself to something really good.