The Universe Is Wrong: Love In Constant Spectacle By Jane Weaver

Drawing on her broadest sonic palette yet, Love In Constant Spectacle finds Jane Weaver at her most compelling and her most personal, finds Amanda Farah

Jane Weaver has an instantly recognisable musical identity. Her marriage of psych folk, electronica, and experimental rock is unparalleled. But when considering the strength and originality of her work over the last ten years, it’s easy to forget the previous decade of solo work that built up to creating this unique space she holds.

Weaver’s latest album, Love in Constant Spectacle, continues on from her recent work with an added introspective gravity. After the vibrant, kaleidoscopic arrangements of Flock and Modern Kosmology, Love In Constant Spectacle surprises with more subdued arrangements, peppered with acoustic instruments. Weaver is hardly starting from scratch, incorporating hallmarks of her style to make the album feel like part of the arc her recent work has been progressing on. Her distinctive choices in drum styles – motorik versus jazz – continue to swap places throughout, and the palette of her synthesizers and guitar effects colour much of the album.

Weaver’s recent work has been characterised by a density and thus a richness in her arrangements. She has also always previously self-produced her records. For Love In Constant Spectacle, Weaver teamed up with longtime PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish on production. Parish is a solid choice of copilot on an album that incorporates more organic instrumentation than Weaver’s recent work, and it is perhaps his influence that has opened the weave of the fabric on this album.

Much of the complexity of the arrangements on Love In Constant Spectacle comes from the visibility of the layers. On the title track, glam rock guitars are stretched out in choppy sheets, underlining Weaver’s vocals for emphasis. An electronic taffy-pull runs concurrent to the guitar-like shading, giving the whole song a feeling of open, cosmic space.

This spaciousness is all the more apparent in the slower songs on the album, which themselves feel like the greatest departure from her recent work. While the current trajectory of Weaver’s experimental, Krautrock-referencing albums began in earnest with 2014’s The Silver Globe, her earlier work owed more to traditional English folk, hijacked into a mystical world. The folk references never fully went away, but they are more apparent on Love In Constant Spectacle than they have been for more than a decade.

Though more a nod to the 60s and 70s than traditional folk, the references are fully pronounced on the acoustic guitar-led tracks ‘Emotional Components’ and ‘Motif’. The slow build of ‘Emotional Components’ in particular feel like the stretching of the fabric to see its composition, a twelve-string guitar playing an understated role against Weaver’s smooth vocal and a synthesizer acting as quirky punctuation to each line.

It’s a song structure that’s repeated on ‘The Axis and the Seed’, which, rather than having folk references, is a jazzy void. The drums and bass take a muted lead with guitar once again only serving to support Weaver’s vocals. If Weaver’s early work felt transported from a forest, her lyrics here – though they’re observations of nature – are cast out into the emptiness of space, her voice a whisper, echoing out into the blackness, the reverb creating a vapour trail. The feeling is one of profound isolation, of literally being cut off, in contrast to the normal liveliness of her music.

But there is a different tone in some of the lyrics and their delivery on the album. In her work up to this point, Weaver so frequently sounds knowing, experienced, certain. When she sings about abstract images she sounds convincing; when she sings about relationships of all stripes, she sounds strong. On Love In Constant Spectacle, Weaver allows a creeping sadness in, something more nagging than consuming. It can be subtle. The light, trotting drums and soft electronics of ‘Happiness in Proximity’ aren’t overtly sad, but her refrain of ‘and then…’ leaves the song pregnant with possibility and uncertainty; her steady delivery never reveals the outcome.

It’s the most stripped back of the tracks that seed this heavyheartedness. ‘Motif’ and ‘Univers’ are already notable for their minimalism and slower tempos, a combination which leaves Weaver’s voice exposed. Suddenly, the sincerity that’s always been there is more obvious, and it hits a lot harder. “Don’t try to be the light / See the light” she entreats on ‘Motif’, and paired with a finger-picked acoustic guitar it almost sounds a bit twee. But as the song progresses, and a gentle synth arpeggio fades in, there is more fatigue to her encouragement, a tacit acknowledgement that you can’t prop someone up forever. It blots out anything potentially cute.

Both ‘Motif’ and ‘Univers’ could be directed towards the same individual subject, and a sense of loss seems to connect both tracks like the anticipation and the resolution of a problem. Weaver teeters towards ballad territory on ‘Univers’, a warbling synth and a refracted guitar dropped low behind her soft voice, an emotive vocal burst on the outro. “Don’t blame me / It’s the universe that’s wrong” she sings, her voice – without any effects or embellishments – against this minimal arrangement is especially moving and intimate, more sad than defensive that the end has come. But whomever is sharing in this sadness is being shepherded through it. There is no option to wallow.

The melancholia of these songs is notable, but it’s not a defining characteristic of the album. Weaver has done plenty of reflecting on relationships that have been lost or have soured without being explicitly sad. On album opener ‘Perfect Storm’, she is confident and assured while ruminating on why it’s better to be alone than in a bad relationship. A bouncing synth rhythm buoys her voice as she contemplates a reconciliation that may not happen – and she seems certain that it would be okay for things to not work out.

For all of the untrod territory, the album begins and ends as a more direct extension of her recent work. Album closer ‘Family Of The Sun’ taps directly into psychedelic tones, a synthesiser with a distinctly 70s drone underpinned by the hollow strumming of guitar. It’s at the end of the album that things feel most familiar, but the shift away from density in production can be heard. All of the details are interlaced more loosely, and they are more obvious for it. A sudden uptick in speed on the outro of ‘Family’ is also a reminder that there are far fewer electronic flourishes in general on the album, although Weaver still allows for a few twisting and distorting notes as postscripts to her songs.

Weaver’s spirit of experimentation and play is a big factor in what has made her so original and so compelling as an artist. In that vein, it makes sense that a little indulgent noodling on a fade out would lead into a subdued, even sombre, song. It’s the latest iteration of that steadfast musical identity she’s carved out. For every nod to the 70s, and for all the folk inflections that belong to their own old-fashioned agelessness, there are tones that Weaver has captured that are so wholly her own. Whether it’s a custom synth or favoured drum patterns, she has found the elements that suit her, and is now on the perpetual task of reimagining them.

And part of that is that the references to previous eras of music have now turned into references to previous eras of her own music. She has reincorporated more of the folk of her early albums, but the album is still more of a reflection of her songwriting and composition styles now.

Love In Constant Spectacle is an illustration of progress over reinvention. And in art as in life it’s maybe less romantic to steadily test and improve on yourself in incremental ways rather than making dramatic changes. There’s an allure to burning everything to the ground and starting over, but a constant re-examining of yourself and your work requires facing what you’ve done up to this point. Weaver’s own study allows her to consistently build on her body of work rather than just recycling it. And it’s invigorating to see an artist hit her stride more that two decades on from her first solo release.

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