Vanilla Jenner, professionally known as Viji is the artist behind the debut album So Vanilla which is my listening pleasure at the moment. The producer of this album is Dan Carey, known for his work with Fontaines DC, Wet Leg and Slow Thai, among others, we might consider it a shoo-in that it will be well presented, and trust me- it is.
The opening number ‘Anything’ hits my sweet spot, and it’s like that first caffeine rush of the day. I’m left wondering where this songstress originated. The feel of the presentation left me in America, but I wasn’t entirely confident with this. The truth is Vanilla is European, having been born and raised in Austria until the age of 16, at which point she relocated to the US, and then Brazil to stay with family. So there’s the influence I hear. Finally, she made it to the UK, where she studied music production in Brighton. Perhaps it was the soft ripple of the tide, combined with the pebbly beach, whose effect found its way onto this album.
I was told to expect the “fuzzy sounds of the ’90s,” along with an influence of the slower end of Sonic Youth, which is “paired with pop hooks and slow soulful soliloquies.” I’ve already discovered the first, but the second requires the listener to absorb the artist’s words, words she is casting like a web within these songs. Just like those acts, we were introduced to in the later ’80s and early ’90s, the likes of My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, and another less obvious songstress, Liz Phair, that in tone and musicality I feel bear similarities. But like that spider, Jenner references this arachnid in the song ‘Karaoke’ when she sings “You barely ever see me/I’m a spider on the ceiling,” at which point the song heads skyward. I’m left following a gorgeous bass line, that like a web has been left to hook the listener. This is another enchanting number, that will prove to be an itch that is difficult to scratch, so continuing through the album will be the best option.
The twelve songs presented here are never one thing. Sometimes erring on the grunge side of pop, while others on the down-side of up, as shoe-gazing takes her fancy. Then during the number ‘Sedative’ it appears to address what I can conclude is mental health, as the brilliant video depicts her being strapped into a straightjacket. Throughout the song ‘Blanket’, maybe another extension is displayed, where the artist describes ”But then the world just goes on without me,” as a period of depression touched upon before a sublime cello is introduced. This is a work of art, the soundscape displays a fuller repertoire than just a three-minute pop song and the text, is so thoughtful. But these songs were never one thing, as the raw telling ’Sharks’ is raised from the slumber of the last number, which is a drunken riot, the destination of the local rock club, such is its power. In juxtaposition, the track ‘1850‘ catches my ear. My first thoughts were that this was a journey into Victorian literature, but a journey through the young adult horror series of novels, otherwise known as The Vampire Plagues that had caught the author’s imagination. Like this, the track that follows also features a wonderful display of rhythm, as ‘Say Hi’ enters the forum. Instead of dark, romantic literature, this is a demonstration in Emo-pop, sun-ripped open spaces, kids discussing the latest crazes, with the rhythm always in the rearview mirror. ‘Ambien’ concludes the album and fittingly the amp’s distortion is turned up to eleven. However, rather than rocking out, this creates a space between my ears which is slow-time and as notes on a piano are played out, the tempo decreases yet further. This is the finest conclusion to any album, creating the perfect ambience.
Wrapping up this invitation from London-based Austrian artist Viji, I can only conclude she is far from the two-dimensional pop icon I might have thought. With fuzz guitar, a concrete back-line, and lyrics which go further than skin-deep, as Berry Gordy Jr. is noted as having said, “It’s what’s in the grooves that count.” Although these grooves might not have been exactly what he was imagining, Vanilla Jenner has certainly given us a gift in this debut album, that I can only hope ignites her creativity yet more. With training in production, who knows where she might continue her journey?