Pop culture thrives on reinvention. We dust off old trends and records found in our parents’ basement and throw them on with a sly expression, mentally tallying who in the room gets the reference. It’s not exactly imitation, but more like reimagining; a kind of Magritte-esque irony that’s centered on the likeness of a thing and not the thing itself (Ceci n’est pas une pipe, guys). It’s an M.O. that Jessica Jalbert slips into quite nicely, channeling classic psychedelic rock in her sophomore album Cosmic Troubles.
On both of her records, Jalbert has performed as Faith Healer, a moniker that drives home how influential the '60s and '70s have been on her style. Cosmic Troubles’ opening track is called “Acid,” after all, with a languorous lead-in that makes you think of a lava lamp’s waxen insides. It’s easy, then, to take the song at face-value as an ode to hallucinogens and their dreamy, Alice-in-Wonderland effect, when in fact the intent is just the opposite. Jalbert’s wistful delivery makes it easy to miss that the lyrics say something very distinct from the melody. Case in point: “If I need a feeling / I’ll just get it from myself.” It’s this subtle contrast that makes Cosmic Troubles much more complex than mere resurrected psychedelia. Instead, Faith Healer has composed a wry LP that’s very aware of its tongue-in-cheek references.
While Jalbert is the solo artist behind Faith Healer, her second album does mark another collaboration with longtime colleague Renny Wilson. The two Canadian natives hail from Edmonton, work in the same record shop, and created a makeshift studio in the basement of Wilson’s parents’ house. There, the friends played every part on Cosmic Troubles, and this garage-band production style definitely comes through in the final product. Tracks like “Universe” have good, old-fashioned, quick-footed electric chords (with a melody that’s reminiscent of the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). Yet whether the soundscape has a bit of an edge or lingering reverb, Faith Healer’s lyrics remain consistently surreal with a deadpan delivery—it's all very reminiscent of Grace Slick. Jalbert never really breaks out of this even tone, but that seems to be the point. Cosmic Troubles has a kind of cynical, what-does-it-all-mean attitude that somehow doesn’t preclude self-deprecation. Take “Fools Rush In,” where she repeats, “Yeah I’m so stupid / I will probably forget” in her elusive soprano. The insults roll right off her back.
The more you listen to the album the more these layers start to reveal themselves. Soothing and self-effacing don’t usually jive, but on Cosmic Troubles it works. You imagine Jalbert writing her songs while staring at the night sky through a kaleidoscope, barefoot in an idyllic meadow but probably wearing a goofy hat. It’s an LP that’s best played when you’re feeling calm and pensive, looking to broach a few existential topics without falling down the rabbit hole. Because on Cosmic Troubles, the ideas are heavy but the tunes let you float away.