By Sebastian Buzzalino
EDMONTON — Edmonton’s music scene is well known for its prolific and shape-shifting nature, with many of the key players forming and collaborating on different projects on a whim, moving across boundaries and disciplines with ease. Somewhere near the centre of all that activity stands Jessica Jalbert, who has been playing music in one form or another for more than a decade. Jalbert’s debut album proper, 2011’s Brother Layola, was released under her own name and introduced the world beyond Edmonton to her canny ability to craft an earworm of a pop song and her dreamy, comforting vocals. Jalbert has also played with Edmonton favourite, Jon Comyn, leads the scrappy garage bubblegum punks, The Tee-Tahs, and is getting ready to release her sophomore solo album, and first under the Faith Healer moniker, Cosmic Troubles (Mint Records), this month. It’s a dizzying resume for someone who disarms the notion that she’s at the centre of a new wave of Edmonton buzz by saying that it’s just a “way of passing time” and that she tries to “stay as active as possible.”
In many ways, Cosmic Troubles is a fresh start for Jalbert’s solo career. While Brother Layola was characterized by a gauzy, veiled aesthetic, she’s much more direct on her latest effort, channeling ‘60s French pop, ’70s garage psychedelia and acid grooves with ease. Cosmic Troubles swirls a delightful cocktail of Velvet Underground influences, Serge Gainsbourg flourishes, Iggy Pop swagger and, she laughs, the occasional dad rock blues riffs. It represents the biggest step forward and the biggest stylistic risks she’s taken thus far.
“I was a little worried about some of the decisions we were making while we recorded it,” she admits. “Like, the first track on the album, ‘Acid,’ I was playing it at a music festival last year and this old guy came up to me and was like, ‘You know, that’s basically the same chord progression as ‘Sweet Jane.’ You might want to change that.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, what am I even allowed to do here?’ I was really worried people were going to think it was too throwback-y, you know? At the same time, the kind of rock and roll that I have been listening to, and the kind of music that moves me, is definitely going to influence what I write and what I feel inspired by.”
Cosmic Troubles was recorded with the help of long-time friend and collaborator, Renny Wilson, another fixture in the Edmonton scene (though he now lives in Montreal). With his encouragement and off-beat personality, Jalbert fully immersed herself into her performance as Faith Healer, experimenting with different sounds and using the bed tracks as a base on which they could be free to layer ideas at their whim.
“Opinions are often divided about René, because he’s such a personality, but he’s so easy to be comfortable around,” says Jalbert. “That’s good when you’re in the studio, you’re not concerned that someone is going to think that you’re cool or stupid, or that you have good or bad ideas. I felt completely comfortable, as if I was dicking around with my brother — I didn’t feel like I was in a position to be judged and felt totally free to try whatever I wanted.”
Releasing Cosmic Troubles as Faith Healer, rather than a second Jessica Jalbert album, is no accident, then. As her confidence and proficiency with songwriting and recording has increased in the past couple of years, she’s begun to explore the idea of performing something beyond just a direct conduit to her subconscious, of using a persona to explore inventive, new ideas.
“I can act a bit more, I have more than just my own introverted self to offer. I can actually decide what I want to sound like and what I want to do,” she says. “It’s more than just my own confessional.”
Cosmic Troubles will be released on March 31 via Mint Records. Listen to the track “Again” below.AB, Alberta, Cosmic Troubles, Faith Healer, Jessica Jalbert