There’s an old saying, “you have your whole life to write your first album”. This implies that an artist has spent years, perhaps decades, carefully composing their mission statement, message, story or identity to a world stage. Usually, however, we end up listening to a collection of songs they’ve written up to that point.
Thankfully, Vernon Jane have opted for the former. ‘The Ritual Of Love Making’ is a testament to the art of crafting an album. The band takes us on a deep-dive of the four layers of their titular ritual: Cleanse, Sink, Drown and Float. A concept album in four acts exploring intimacy, vulnerability, aggression, shame, power, love and healing; shattering taboos along the way – a gutsy move for a full-length debut.
Cleanse, a jazz-infused spoken word piece, sets the tone for the album. Both music and lyrics are deceptive. Much has been made of the band’s organised chaos and willingness to jam or vamp on a groove already but it bears repeating. What seems like free-flow improvisation is in fact deliberate, what seems like stream of consciousness is in fact carefully chosen words.
More to this point is the barbed fury of Daddy Issues. Sitting in stark contrast to the haze of its predecessor, its dissonant guitars, booming bass and frenetic tempo run circles around the OTT, mocking tone frontwoman Emily Jane employs on the track’s bridge to emphasise the cutting put-downs of an ex-lover (“If you don’t/Sort your daddy issues/I will up and leave you/And no one else will want you”). This intensity carries on throughout the album, especially on the relentless screams of “I’m a bitch and you’re a cunt” on Sink and on the razor sharp brass stabs and powerfully venomous vocal performance on album highlight Fuck Her.
There are several sonic divergences on ‘The Ritual of Love Making’. While there are aural onslaughts in abundance, we also have lush melodies on Drugs You Do, darkly menacing slow-builds on Otherside and the moody, twisted restlessness of Drown. It is during these moments when ‘The Ritual of Love Making’ is at its best, when the band give themselves space to explore all the nuances and subtleties of their sound.
For all its thematic cohesion and stylistic diversity, however, the album is not without its flaws. The aforementioned Daddy Issues, while intentionally disjointed, somehow doesn’t come off as such. Its arrangement seems more so rushed than off-kilter for any narrative purposes. Also, for all the intensity and volume a Vernon Jane live show has to offer, often instruments are buried in the mix or not brought to the fore enough on record. The opening guitar leads on Last Good Fuck, for example, are all but mollified, their sting removed; while elsewhere the horns which offer so much are lost in the mire.
Nevertheless, as far as debut albums go, ‘The Ritual Of Love Making’ is a bold opening statement. Over the course of its four acts in a dozen tracks, there is much by way of catharsis and aural pleasure. Insightful, emotional and consistently impressive, it packs a mean punch, marrying pop sensibility with angst and dynamics, rapid-fire time changes and powerhouse vocals. We’ve had our eye on Vernon Jane for some time now. They’ve only gotten better, and can only continue to do so.