Review: Jen Cloher’s ‘I am the river, the river is me’ is an album of startling beauty

Jen Cloher

The Breakdown

Jen Cloher is back after an absence of 5 years with a warm and insightful album that cements their place as one of our greatest singer songwriters. Early contender for album of 2023!
Milk! 9.0

Jen Cloher is back after an absence of five years, with their new album, ‘I am the river, the river is me’ out today via Marathon Artists/Milk! Records.

The album was recorded in Naarm (Melbourne) and Tāmaki Makaurau over the lockdown. Recordings were sent across the Tasman arriving each morning with little Easter eggs of new ideas. On the Aotearoa side I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Te Kaahu (Waikato-Tainui, Ngaati Tiipaa), Ruby Solly (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe) as well as Tom Healy and Cass Basil of Tiny Ruins. And here in Naarm I had the multi talented Anika Ostendorf (Hachiku) producing, arranging and engineering alongside Nick Huggins and Jen Sholakis.

Jen Cloher

To celebrate the release of ‘I am the river, the river is me’ Cloher has shared a new video for single ‘Harakeke’. Cloher’s mother, Dorothy Urlich-Cloher, was a scholar from the northlands of Aotearoa whose contribution to Māori tribes of this region is celebrated in this track.

It’s only March I know, but I can confidently predict that ‘I am the river, the river is me’ will be one of the best albums of 2023. Cloher is one of Australia’s (ok Cloher is actually from New Zealand/Aotearoa) most prolific and talented musos. This album is all encompassing – it spans the personal (their break up with Courtney Barnett,) the exploration of their Māori heritage and is also a commentary on our recent political situation (‘Protest Song’,) all delivered in a collection of astute songs that are superbly produced and lushly orchestrated.

The album kicks off with ‘Mana Takatāpui’ in which Cloher immediately signals their intentions ‘Our tiny world / a tiny eggshell tumbling swirl’ they sing, as the stage is set for what will follow – an intimate examination of the complex web of connections and relationships that span the planet and us as individuals.

Cloher has spoken about how they have worked to reclaim their heritage and the outstanding ‘Being Human‘ is a no holds barred rendering of their battle to bring together the dichotomy of feeling that they are an interloper with the need to reconnect with their culture.

The songs on this album are diverse and showcase Cloher’s range as a songwriter from the achingly beautiful combination of nostalgia and melancholy of ‘I am coming Home’ to tracks such as ‘The Wild’ which has some great vocals (Kylie Auldist) reminiscent of those of Clare Torry on Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ to full-on rockers (‘Being Human’) and the sexy, sapphic ‘My Witch‘.

Final track, ‘I Am Coming Home’ perfectly sums up Cloher’s personal quest, but the lyrics and sentiment will be relevant to many, ‘Spent my whole life / Trying to find the parts that are missing’. And aren’t we all, to a certain extent doing that?

Patti Smith once said ‘The dead speak. We have forgotten how to listen.’ Te Ao Māori (the Māori worldview) tends to agree. We know there is a thin veil between the living and the dead and that our Tūpuna (Ancestors) are right there with us. This is the spirit I felt close when I was writing and recording the album. I am not doing this alone and it’s not just for me.

Jen Cloher

Despite the undeniable tension that must have pervaded the genesis of these songs, Cloher’s confident delivery, backed by some fine musicians, results in an album that is upbeat, hopeful and simply beautiful. Whilst it documents Cloher’s personal quest it has universal themes that will resonate widely.

Stream / Download ‘I am the river, the river is me’ HERE.

Photo Credit: Marcelle Bradbeer

Cloher has announced a wide ranging tour – Tickets available HERE.

Jen Cloher Tour Dates
Sat 6 May – Rechabite Perth Whadjuk/Noongar land AU
Fri 12 May – Princess Theatre Brisbane Jagera & Turrbal land AU
Sat 13 May – The Eltham Hotel NSW Bundjalung land AU
Sat 20 May – Lion Arts Factory Adelaide Kaurna land AU
Fri 26 May – Anglesea Memorial Hall VIC Wadawurrung land AU
Sat 27 May – Northcote Theatre Melbourne Wurundjeri land AU
Thurs 1 June – Venue TBA Sydney Gadigal land AU
7 Jun – Deaf Institute, Manchester UK
8 Jun – Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds UK
9 Jun – The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle UK
10 Jun – Stereo, Glasgow UK
11 Jun – The Hare & Hounds, Birmingham UK
13 Jun – Jazz Café, London UK
14 Jun – Louisiana, Bristol UK
15 Jun – Green Door Store, Brighton UK
16 Jun – Witfloof Bar Botanique, Brussels BE
17 Jun – EKKO, Utrecht NL
18 Jun – Rotown, Rotterdam NL
20 Jun – Supersonic, Paris FR
22 Jun – Molotow Skybar, Hamburg DE
23 Jun – Privatclub, Berlin DE
28 July – Meow, Wellington NZ
29 July – Whammy, Auckland NZ

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