reviewed by Chris Matei
There’s much to be made of lowering in the liner notes for The Descent, released earlier this year by Saskatoon’s Jared Ens. Conceived as an exercise to banish the grip of ego, to bury down into the truth of the self, even the imagery of vultures swooping down to pick away the impermanent, toxic and unnecessary parts of our belief systems that are holding us back – all of these resonate and intertwine to create Ens’ modus operandi. Even its cover art plays on the hidden grotesqueries we battle with every day.
The record sets its mood right from the get-go, with Ens’ reedy, smooth voice prominent but wreathed in strings and keys, showing qualities not unlike those of Minnesotan balladeer J.E Sunde or Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold at times. Poetic, lilting and dark, songs with titles like “Grave” and “Mourning Morning” certainly don’t leave much in the way of ambiguity when it comes to the overall mood of The Descent: somber but magically enigmatic. Washes of far-off saxophone, strings, and drums add melancholic texture across the record, but the spotlight shines brightest on the narrative qualities of Ens’ vocal performance. The downside to this minimalist approach is that some of the songs lull to and fro, lacking the drive and sense of purpose needed to hold the ear for their whole running times despite their raw, vintage-photographic realism – the aforementioned “Mourning” and “Pigs on Parade” included.
“Sword in My Side” is a wry, pained laugh of a tune – upbeat and bright, but cut through with bitterness, and the album’s poppiest cut. It reminds me of something Jon Brion might have produced in his “Meaningless” period – self-deprecatory yet celebratory piano pop with the delicately rustic songwriting touch of the new American songbook.
“Prisoner” is the album’s richest ballad, and the one that cuts the deepest with the simplest structures. In the chorus Ens implores “I don’t want to be loved, I just want to be touched / I don’t want to die…” and it feels like he’s put down his lyric book and truly found his voice. The ethereal presence of guest vocalist Rachel Elizabeth is all too briefly highlighted – I would have liked to hear more of the interplay between these two.
Album closer “The Wicked Wolf” ends this EP with a summation and restatement of its mission – a plea for release and rebirth wrapped up in a fable of destruction and death and family, dark and melodic, and finally reaching some form of the catharsis it has been searching for. That in itself can be called an achievement for this deeply personal and introspective collection of songs.
Top Tracks: “The Wicked Wolf,” “Prisoner,” “Sword In My Side”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)