Jeni Magana's bio provokes the ambivalent cocktail of envy and admiration that the prodigiously talented always incite. With her former band Oh Odessa, she was credited on vocals, guitar, ukulele, bells, upright bass, clarinet, pump organ, piano, and bottles. The New York City based performer has previously played with The Polaroid Truth, Keppie Coutts, Will Knox and Dropkick Murphys, amongst many others. She has also played with several symphony orchestras.
Golden Tongue is her debut solo record and has been compared to St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett, Daughter and Cat Power. At its core Golden Tongue is a singer-songwriter record but the eclectic and inspired choice of instrumentation and arrangements make it into something greater. The opening track, ‘Get It Right’, with its organ, sax, and guitar chiming in unison has the retro sci-fi feel of The War Of The Worlds or Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Her soulful vocal and infectious chorus make it the perfect introduction to a new talent.
‘Inches Apart’s fingerpicked electric guitar and pleading vocal are more typical songwriter territory, and the subtle presence of Magana's backing instruments recalls Leonard Cohen's early work. She plays almost everything on the EP, backed up by the off-kilter beat of her rhythm section. ‘The World Doesn’t Know’ could be a Lisa Hannigan song. It has a whimsical verse paired with an austere chorus of “Every cell in your body belongs to the thought in my brain”.
Unusually, the EP finishes with the title track, suggesting that the preceding songs have been leading up to a significant denouement. And ‘Golden Tongue’ is no disappointment as the previously restrained and delicate vocals escalate to anguished howls and the esoteric guitar lines become pounding rock chords. After the catharsis of the closing song there is nothing left to do but press repeat.
Golden Tongue has enough range of emotion and musical variety to engage the attention from start to finish, and it feels like a journey in a way that many full albums fail to. It sounds like the birth of a new star and with the year that's in it, that is most welcome.
Like PJ Harvey’s early work, you feel that she is limited by her circumstances. Someone, give this woman a budget! With a complementary producer, a big band, and six months in the studio, Magana could compose a masterpiece. But, for the moment, working in a DIY fashion with a confined budget she is still able to construct songs of this intensity. Many great artists did their best work before the lucrative contracts came along and Magana has delivered four fiercely individual, and disparate songs.
The Golden Tongue EP can be pre-ordered from bandcamp here.