J.Knife releases astonishing debut album 'familiar sounds'.
Jennifer Kim, AKA J.Knife, gives a soulful performance on her debut album, familiar sounds. This collection of 11 deeply personal and incredibly well-produced songs demonstrate a creative talent way beyond the 14-year-old singer-songwriters years.
The ghostly cover-art of familiar sounds sets the tone well for this album. The profound and haunting songs here examine the singer's vulnerabilities and neurosis and the result is a tender album with a gentle, even delicate resonance. Kim wears her influences on her sleeve and familiar sounds fit in among the work of Iron and Wine, Neko Case, Lorde, Elliott Smith and Julian Baker. J.Knife has inherited the same rich and sad songwriting style that drove the works of these artists.
There’s a kind of meta coating on the songs here. As well as writing astute lyrics about romantic struggles, J.Knife also frequently sings about how being a songwriter affects her. Lyrics about her insecurities as an artist, the traps of cliche when writing amorous songs and how it feels to uncover ones deeply personal thoughts feature heavily on the album. This self-awareness somehow makes the songs feel more personal and sincere. Like, being reminded that you’re listening to pop music, with all its limitations and faults, makes the lyrics of J.Knife seem franker, more honest. "That dramatic shit that everybody comes up with to write a song. And I'm just doing the same thing” Kim sings on drama "'I'm doing the right thing,' I tell myself”.
Many of the songs here are simple in structure but the real brilliance comes from what J.Knife does over these really unadorned frames. All these weird and surprising sounds, all these clever production tricks that really make it so interesting to listen to. What is even more impressive is that she never overdoes it. J.Knife’s less-is-more philosophy is prevalent throughout this self-produced album and shows an incredibly mature approach to recording music. Elusive lead-single myp3 is a great example of J.Knife’s effective minimalism.
A similar DIY-sound is applied to the vocals. Kim is clearly a gifted singer with a technically strong voice. Yet, on Familiar Founds she often chooses to mask this behind distorted recordings. The hushed harmonies with which she delivers her very personal lyrics are frequently obscured by different production techniques. In this way, Kim’s voice becomes as much a sonic instrument as her guitar is. The reluctance to exploit her own singing ability in favour of what is more affective for that song marks her out as a rare talent. Tracks like tv, untitled and album-standout is there any way you could change? all do this to great effect.
At just 14 years old, it’s hard not to be impressed by J.Knife’s ability. Of course, an artist should not be defined by details about their life such as their age, but context is important and it’s difficult not be aware of this when listening to familiar sounds. The fact that these rich, brooding and mature songs, with their elegant style and well-textured production came from someone so young is staggering and just a little infuriating. Still, Kim is a rare talent who, even at 14, already has one astonishing album under her belt in familiar sounds.
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