Laura Jean - Amateurs Music Album Reviews

Laura Jean - Amateurs Music Album Reviews
The Australian songwriter’s intermittently funny and mournful folk-pop confronts the improbable task of commercial success and decides that art is worth making anyway.

The cover of Laura Jean’s Amateurs features a portrait of the songwriter. It doesn’t stand out for any particular sense of style or grace; it’s a decent likeness, and that’s it—a painting that aspires to greatness but lands closer to alright-ness. On Amateurs, Jean seeks to understand why certain artists are deemed masters and others, such as the characters she sings about—cast members in small-town musicals and girls performing Crowded House covers at outdoor markets—amateurs. The painting on the cover captures every question Jean asks on the record: If the painter was paid for that portrait, does that make it good? Would it still be good if its artist was paid in nothing but the spiritual thrill of creation?

Jean has been releasing music under her own name for nearly 20 years but, for the most part, hasn’t found footing outside of her home country of Australia. Many of her albums are revered in music circles—in particular 2011’s swaggering, discordant folk-rock record A fool who’ll and the 2018 synth-pop turn Devotion—and she’s been nominated for a handful of regional awards. Lorde gushed about the Devotion single “Touchstone” on Twitter; Jenny Hval sang on Jean’s 2014 self-titled album and Jean returned the favor on The Practice of Love. Conceptually, Amateurs resides on a similar plane as Hval’s Menneskekollektivit, another record that inquires into the nature of art as a devotional practice.

But indie-rock stardom is notoriously illusory in Australia; there is no workhorse touring circuit to speak of, just small, wonderful, self-sustaining scenes held together by day jobs, government grants, and duct tape. Acclaim rarely reaches enough people to translate into record sales. Touring overseas is prohibitively expensive. So an artist like Jean, who has plaudits to spare, is stuck in a strange middle ground—established but still pursuing a second career (she's studying to be a lawyer), well-known but not well-paid, working in the shadow of an ideal of success that’s further out of reach even than it is to her most ambitious U.S.- or UK-based peers.

Amateurs attempts to contend with this cowed legacy of artmaking in Australia: the idea that anyone engaged in serious art may be doomed to do it for love alone. Musically, Jean is returning to folk—not exactly the spare, quiet kind on Laura Jean or the drunken howl of A fool who’ll, but a style that suggests the blushing, diaristic songs of Devotion redone with more organic materials. Amateurs is unwieldy but graceful and often quite formally challenging, even as it foregrounds open-mic night staples like upright piano and heavily strummed acoustic.

The album has a crisp, airy atmosphere—in part because of Erkki Veltheim’s rich string arrangements, which receive as much space as Jean’s own voice, as well as lush backing vocals by Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams—but it’s one of Jean’s densest records, almost totally eschewing traditional song structure. Throughout the record, she writes in lengthy, unspooling verses filled with run-on sentences and sharp line breaks. On the lyrics sheet, an entire verse of “Pauly” appears in parentheses; many tracks veer between plainspoken and poetic in a way that evokes a more informal Joanna Newsom. On a song like “Rock’n’Roll Holiday,” about a youthful relationship with someone far wealthier, it feels as if Jean is trying to cram words into invisible confinements (“I love your pointed nose and your sad blue eyes”). “Something to Look Forward to Forever” is casual but painfully revealing, its lyrics reading like secrets spilled to a stranger after last call: “Just before I was Laura Jean/I’d do sit ups in my room/Trying to look good for the lead singer.”

Much of Amateurs feels like a set of short stories unified by the common theme of art’s relationship with commerce. “Rock’n’Roll Holiday” seems to be about the sometimes funny, sometimes sad class tensions between its two central characters until, in the final verse, Jean zooms out to critique the idea of legacy as something only the rich can afford. “Folk Festival” is a paean to the regional, community-minded music festivals that are so common in Australia, and which often represent young people’s first serious engagement with non-pop music. On the album’s saddest song, “Market on the Sand,” Jean turns a well-meaning loved one’s offhand remark—“That thing you do darling, for fun/Why don’t you turn it into a second income?”—into something painful and elegiac. It feels as if she is mourning the idea of art for art’s sake, lamenting the expectation that she strive for commercial success knowing the chances aren’t very high.

These ideas coalesce on “Something to Look Forward to Forever,” the album’s final track. Over spacious, chilly keys, Jean reveals the thing that keeps her making music even as all signs suggest she should quit: “I want something to look forward to forever/That’s what magic is/Something to look forward to forever/And never ever getting it.” She’s not singing about money or fame, necessarily. She means to say there’s something spiritually fulfilling about making art outside the usual constraints of commerce and competition—that all that striving is as good a reason as any to live.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Laura Jean - Amateurs Music Album Reviews Laura Jean - Amateurs Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 18, 2022 Rating: 5


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