Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Cassandra Jenkins My Light, My Destroyer

Dead Oceans
Dead Oceans

“I just read that there was an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that on Saturday night went between the moon and the earth,” Sandy Jenkins says, peering up at the lunar surface through binoculars. “Did we see it?” her daughter Cassandra asks. Sandy’s reply: “Somebody did.”

On “Betelgeuse,” the centerpiece of Cassandra Jenkins’ new album My Light, My Destroyer, we hear a field recording of the mother-daughter stargazing session, backed by Michael Coleman’s light, spacious piano and an assortment of somber brass sounds from Jesse McGinty. The ambient jazz arrangement adds to the moment’s sense of intimacy and wonder, evoking the work of Claire Rousay and the intro to “Hard Drive,” the standout from Jenkins’ own 2021 breakthrough An Overview On Phenomenal Nature. That album, meant to be Jenkins’ last, became an indie-world sensation largely because of “Hard Drive.” The song’s half-spoken, half-sung sophistipop mirage tapped into a certain strain of wistful, metaphysical longing — think Destroyer’s Kaputt as sung by your globe-trotting, deep-thinking aunt — and it drew listeners into a record that mostly lived up to its lofty standard.

As long as humans have existed, we have stared into the sky to make sense of this life. Be it Egyptians worshiping the sun, astrologers seeking meaning in the stars, or the psalmist writing that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” the expanse above us has been a constant venue for spiritual searching. To survey the galaxy is to reorient ourselves, to reset our sense of scale. We look upward to ponder the vast universe, our place in it, what it all means, where it’s all going. So it’s no surprise that a seeker like Jenkins would eventually lift her gaze to the horizon in her quest for revelation, contentment, or at least the psychic sustenance to carry on another day.

The celestial theme does not immediately reveal itself. My Light, My Destroyer begins with a series of brilliant songs about loneliness, attraction, and the compromises we sometimes make for love. “I think you’ve mistaken my desperation for devotion,” Jenkins sings in the album’s opening line, tenderly cooed against gentle acoustic strums. “I walked bedrock/ Exposed and barren/ Disappeared into the mountains/ Knocked on every door/ Until one opened.” On the subsequent “Clams Casino” — named for the dinner, not the cloud-rap producer — she recounts more curious, thought-provoking encounters like the ones that dotted her last LP, always returning to the refrain, “I don’t wanna laugh alone anymore.” The allure runs much deeper on “Delphinium Blue,” where the intense beauty and fragrance of a flower shop comes to symbolize an all-consuming desire.

With the interlude “Shatner’s Theme,” the perspective shifts to vertical, with stellar results. On “Aurora, IL,” Jenkins is stranded on tour, driving in circles just to see the blue sky, grumbling about Jeff Bezos and his leisure rocket. She trades out that malaise for passion on the intimate slow jam “Omakase,” where she invites a partner to “pull me apart, put me back together again,” addressing the person as “my lover, my light, my destroyer, my meteorite.” In between is “Betelgeuse,” brimming with tenderness and awe. Ultimately this central four-track run is the only part of the album focused on space, but it hangs over the rest like a supernatural encounter in the middle of an otherwise normal life. Jenkins clearly sees it as an important aspect of the record; she’s holding a listening party tonight at a planetarium.

After this middle section of the album, the focus returns to Earth. There, the mundane becomes the basis for further soul-searching (“Petco”) and Jenkins continues to struggle in the aftermath of love gone awry (“Tape And Tissue”). If the opening of the album charted two people falling together, with painstaking earnestness, this final stretch chronicles what happens when they fall apart again. Steering clear of the universal, the proper finale “Only One” hones in on intense personal feeling: “You’re the only one I’ve ever loved/ The only one that I know how to love.” By this point she’s traveled a long, painful circuit, and the loneliness that drove her to connect with someone has only intensified now that the person is gone.

Jenkins says her songs are usually composites of real-life experiences rather than direct retellings, but the poetic license does not stop her from putting her whole self into them. She writes frankly about relatable themes, filling her songs with vivid images and smart turns of phrase. Although grief hung over An Overview On Phenomenal Nature, the new record feels even sadder and heavier at times. My Light, My Destroyer is a breakup album of sorts, but in Jenkins’ music, even the darkest moments are accented by the sense that comedy, beauty, and inspiration are always lurking. The melancholia that pervades so much of the album never drags it down into the morose because epiphanies of the “Hard Drive” variety persist.

A lot goes into creating that feeling. As a singer, Jenkins is gentle but firm, gifted with both delicate whispers and grand, elegant melodies. As a producer and arranger, she knows how to make the world behind her come alive. With co-producers Andrew Lappin and Josh Kaufman and sound designer Timothy Cleary, she builds out a lush palette full of brass, strings, keyboards, and much more, textures that convey an even richer emotional complexity than her lyrics. Along the way, an all-star assortment of indie-rock talent stops by to help out. Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy, Strange Ranger’s Isaac Eiger, Palehound’s El Kempner, Darkside’s Dave Harrington, singer-songwriter Katie Von Schleicher, string arranger Rob Moose, bassist and composer Spencer Zahn, and even whistler Molly Lewis are some of the many names who bring this world to life.

Like Jenkins’ prior record, My Light, My Destroyer tends to settle into a sort of ambient soft-rock that reminds me of gorgeously sighing passages from Bon Iver or the 1975, evoking the faint hues of sunrise and sunset. But even songs that veer from that baseline, be it the statuesque synth-pop of “Delphinium Blue” or the steadily crawling post-grunge of “Petco,” feel like different kinds of terrain within the same region. There are ragged guitar solos and jazzy piano chords, brilliant writerly flourishes and a soul-stirring finale that leaves words aside entirely. It’s an album with an identifiable sonic imprint that expertly mirrors its narrator’s distinctive tone, always caught between knowing and unknowing.

Jenkins’ quest to comprehend herself is at the heart of the album. On “Omakase,” the invitation “Pull me apart, want you to see who I am” quickly transforms into “Pull me apart, I want to see who I am.” On “Tape And Tissue,” when that affection has given way to alienation, she’s still searching for perspective: “I want to stand where I am now.” In between, on “Petco,” her self-analysis takes on a pessimistic tone: “I wander through the pet store/ Asking, ‘What is my true nature?’/ Can I take care of anything or anyone I’m eyeing?” All throughout, you get the sense that she’s walking wounded, attempting to process a mess of sensations that are sometimes at odds.

The album ends with Jenkins’ guard down, pleading and lamenting, unsure what to do now that her life has been upended by an emotional comet. “How long will this pain in my chest last?” she asks. “How long will it last?” “Hayley,” the glorious instrumental epilogue, suggests that even this heaviness of heart will not go on forever, that resilience and curiosity will again prevail someday. We’re left in a state of acceptance amidst the tension: The constellations don’t always provide the answers, but at least they light the way forward into the great unknown.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Eminem’s The Death Of Slim Shady (Coup De Grâce)
• Clairo’s Charm
• Sturgill Simpson’s first album as Johnny Blue Skies, Passage Du Desir
• Webbed Wing’s Vol. III
• Speed’s Only One Mode
• Jake Xerxes Fussell’s When I’m Called
• Chris Cohen’s Paint A Room
• Font’s Strange Burden
• Joe Goddard’s Harmonics
• Phish’s Evolve
• Common & Pete Rock’s The Auditorium, Vol. 1
• Jay Worthy & DāM-FunK’s Magic Hour
• Molly Nilsson’s Un​-​American Activities
• Armlock’s Seashell Angel Lucky Charm
• Macseal’s Permanent Repeat
• Toe’s Now I See The Light
• Zacari’s Bliss
• Cigarettes After Sex’s X’s
• Travis’ L.A. Times
• Donovan Woods’ Things Were Never Good If They’re Not Good Now
• Remi Wolf’s Big Ideas
• Brijean’s Macro
• Nacho Picasso & TELEVANGEL’s Jesse’s Revenge
• Gil Cerrone’s Consumer
• Middle Child Syndrome’s Listen To Me
• Scarcity’s The Promise Of Rain
• Bad With Phones’ Crash
• Plutocracy Planet’s Plutocracy Planet
• The Dip’s Love Direction
• Hannah Mohan’s Time Is A Walnut
• Northbound’s Juniper
• Bones Owens’ Love Out Of Lemons
• Salute’s TRUE MAGIC
• Johanna Warren’s The Rockfield Sessions Vol. 2
• Rema’s Heis
• Color Green’s Fool’s Parade
• Foam And Sand’s Foam And Sand Reworks
• Tim Montana’s Savage
• Patrick Higgins’ Versus
• Odie Leigh’s Carrier Pigeon
• Megan Moroney’s Am I Okay?
• Meridian Brothers’ Mi Latinoamérica Sufre
• Mas Aya’s Coming And Going
• OrangeTone’s Portail Opaque
• ORB’s Tailem Bend
• Rontronik’s Zero Eight
• In The Valley Below’s The Black Moon
• Clown Sounds’ Par For The Curse
• Luke Elliott’s Every Somewhere
• 潘PAN’s Pan The Pansexual
• John Summit’s Comfort In Chaos
• Mr. Big’s Ten
• Sam Wilkes, Craig Weinrib, And Dylan Day’s Sam Wilkes, Craig Weinrib, And Dylan Day
• Joep Beving & Maarten Vos’ vision of contentment
• Linda Sikhakhane’s Iladi
• Uncle Kracker’s Coffee & Beer
• Antoniette Costa’s Pitupatter
• OneRepublic’s Artificial Paradise
• Berwyn’s Who Am I
• Negative Gears’ Moraliser
• Orquesta Akokán’s Caracoles
• Drew Parker’s Camouflage Cowboy
• Noa Jamir’s CICADA
• HYUKOH & Sunset Rollercoaster’s AAA
• Budderside’s White Flame
• Jean Paul Jean Paul’s It Comes Back
• In Hearts Wake’s IncarnationAssistert Sjølmord
• The compilation Trans Rights II: WE ARE NO LONGER ASKING
• The compilation Just Cause Vol. 1
• John Lennon’s Mind Games – The Ultimate Collection box set
• Joan Of Arc’s A Window & A Mirror box set
• Land Of Talk’s Applause Cheer Boo Hiss: The Definitive Edition
• Katy Kirby’s Blue Raspberry (Deluxe)
• Steve Earle’s Alone Again live album
• Louis Armstrong’s Louis In London
• Water From Your Eyes’ MP3 Player 1 covers EP
• Doubt’s Held In Contempt EP
• ira glass’ compound turbulence flexing for the heat EP
• Jewel’s The Portal: EP
• Deer Tick’s Contractual Obligations EP
• Dillon James’ River Black EP
• Michael Younker’s Sweet Things EP
• AR/CO’s Origin Stories EP
• Lou Phelps’ TOP Z EP
• JoJo Siwa’s Guilty Pleasure EP
• Metronomy’s Posse Volume 2 EP
• Girl Ultra’s Blush EP
• Hailey Knox’s For The Best EP
• Sophie Powers’ Glitch EP
• tg.blk’s it’s not that deep EP

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from Album Of The Week