Based on the opening notes of flowering head, I’ll admit the last thing I expected from the album was a ten-song foray into liturgical indie folk, as singer and songwriter Jenny Banai describes it. But Banai’s “journey of honest liturgy” has been woven into the very strings of her instruments, cloyingly obvious at times, subtly threaded in for others.
Released mid-October, the Vancouverite’s debut album stands as the culmination of a lifelong pastime. Banai uses her bio to describe how she used to sing privately as a child before picking up her grandfather’s long-silent violin—leaping forward ten years to the results. That affinity for the music as much as her subject gives Banai’s first major release an unassailable advantage.
Dancing jovial notes blend with more muted melodies, letting the vibrations of the strings—from violin to guitar to bass to cello to ukulele—fill the spaces left for it by Banai’s fulsome, murmuring voice. “Alright,” the lone song on the album to feature a co-writer, patters along as trotting beats from multiple instruments swoop in and out, layering and fading away as Banai’s calm presence reassures that “It will all be alright,” with a lightheartedness reminiscent of Feist’s earlier hits.
Although comparisons to Jenn Grant feel just as inevitable when Banai opts for sparser accompaniment and the full force of her voice can be felt. And while it could be argued “About You” lacks lyrical deftness, that Banai’s full-throated humming shares the majority of the melody with just a few simple guitar notes lays the emphasis squarely on flowering head’s finer points.
There’s a refreshing resiliency in “Boar,” a soul-filled interlude fueled by strength and determination that does a remarkable job of balancing message and delivery, driven forward by a stunning arrangement and chorus, described affectionately and aptly as a gang of vocals.
It’s the kind of song that shows off some of Banai’s best—and points to what we can look forward to as she continues her journey. There’s no shortage of soothing positivity in flowering head, but the depths she finds confronting adversity make for the most powerful—and poignant—revelation of the gift she’s sharing.
Top Tracks: “Alright”; “Boar”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)