Jess Cornelius’ new album, ‘Distance”, is the latest chapter in the ever-moving singer-songwriter’s neverending story, and it is spectacular to witness.
Nearly from the time Jess Cornelius emerged on the planet, she has been on the move. Born in the greater Wellington, New Zealand area, Cornelius hopped over the Ditch and set up roots in Melbourne at an early age. There, she fronted the artsy synth-pop band, Teeth & Tongue. And just as the group was on the cusps of exploding in Australia, Cornelius was on the move once again. Suddenly, she’s on a plane to Los Angeles, starting all over in the City of Angels and superstars.
The transition was not easy for Cornelius, who documented her struggles on the brittly vulnerable Nothing Is Lost EP, which was her first output as a solo artist. A few years later, and life has both dramatically changed and stayed the same. Earlier this month, Cornelius and her partner, Joe, welcomed Tui Pepper Cornelius-Hale to the world. With the arrival of her daughter, maybe Cornelius will finally stay stationary, which is unlikely if her debut solo full-length, Distance, is any indication.
Distance is an enrapturing journey of self-discovery. Cornelius brilliantly and intelligently weaves between periods of pain and devastation to resurrection and enlightenment. Through a ’70s-inspired, folk-rock approach, opener “Kitchen Floor” immediately captures all these conflicting experiences in less than four minutes. The song recounts the end of a relationship and the discovery of one’s newfound independence. Leaving is difficult, but it is also rejuvenating.
The stunning Americana number, “Easy for No One”, and the lightly upbeat rocker, “No Difference”, reiterate this message of perseverance. On the former, Cornelius wistfully wonders aloud through her smokey voice, “And maybe I’m dreaming about dancing off. I see no reason to be uphold”. On the latter, she reminds herself and everyone that “if it makes not difference, you might as well be happy” because “one day it will feel like none of this was real”.
The synth-driven “Body Memory”, however, best captures the courage of the album’s heroines. The song is one of heartbreak and redemption, as Cornelius shares the story of a woman who miscarried. While some would try to move on, her “body is a memory and it won’t forget / And my mind is a body and it’s not done yet”. Her words will make one weep while the jittery melody will make one dance, as a very pregnant Cornelius does in the video.
Cornelius, though, also reveals how she, too, has felt unable to move forward. As much as the previous songs revealed her inner strength, the gritty “Love and Low Self-Esteem” sees the artist struggle to endure an unrewarding relationship with a cheating partner. She wallows in despair, reflecting on how he “would eat every night for free” without even glancing in her direction. The Nadine Shah-like “Banging My Head” is Cornelius grappling with stability and lack of fulfilment versus the unexpected and excitement. She’s going nowhere and pleading to free herself.
This struggle for liberation is best exhibited on the record’s dual centerpieces and heart. Through a light but beautifully stark Gothic-folk approach, Cornelius adopts an Aldous Harding-like approach on “Born Again”. She eloquently sings about her emergence from the darkness and realizing she will eventually be o.k. and be loved again. She seeks new beginnings in California, which is wonderfully told on “California”. At first, the fluttery, retro-pop approach, which is akin to Nicole Atkins’ reimaginations of the ’50s and ’60s, gives the sense that everything is all right. The track, however, gradually builds and develops into a euphoric rocker. This is Cornelius’ awakening. This is Cornelius simultaneously confronting the pains of her past and the exhilarating unknowns of the future.
For that matter, Distance is Cornelius’ resurrection. It is yet another rebirth for the nomadic singer-songwriter. While new life springs around her, she still has plenty of tales to tell, and this latest chapter in Cornelius’ neverending story is spectacular to witness.
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