London singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jelly Cleaver describes herself as a mix between “Jeff Buckley and Beyonce, or between Joni Mitchell and Ornette Coleman.” It’s as apt a description as any, since her music pulls from a number of different influences and is truly difficult to categorize. “VI II V,” from the new album The Dream Jazz Manifesto, is a perfect example; each verse could reasonably be placed within a separate genre. The song begins on a soft bed of humming organ, interspersed with rhythmic bursts of static, soon overtaken by swelling strings. From there, it transitions into a moody bit featuring grimy synthesizers backed by echoing woodblock hits and fluttering hi-hats (recalling early James Blake). Finally, the track morphs into a brass-heavy cinematic jazz piece in the vein of Miles Davis’s and Gil Evans’s work on Sketches of Spain. Breaking up each distinct segment is a chorus that strips down most of the accumulated instrumental layers, leaving not much more than a leisurely guitar riff that uncurls like a sleepy morning yawn and stretch. Guiding us throughout this stylistic journey are Jelly Cleaver’s emotive vocals, which paint surreal pictures both hopeful and nightmarish. She does an incredible job matching up her delivery with her words; she describes seeing a man tell a crowd that, “The children that died are the lucky ones,” and her voice flutters into a smooth falsetto on the word “died,” lending the moment a chillingly beautiful air. There are too many fascinating images presented here to list all of them, so do yourself a favor and read the lyrics while listening (they’re provided on Bandcamp). This song is great, although now I don’t know whether to be empowered or creeped out for the coming day.
Check out more from Jelly Cleaver: https://jellycleaver.bandcamp.com/