Kendall Jane Meade is an American singer-songwriter who has been knocking about the indie scene since her time with the mid-’90s alternative rock band Juicy. She has achieved greater critical success with the more restrained Mascott, and returns to these shores with her third album, Art Project.
The follow-up to 2004’s Dreamer’s Book, Meade is even more laid back this time around making her time with the spunky Juicy seem like a distant memory. This is gentle indie folk pop of the most insidious kind, the kind of album it would be easy to hate but end up sneakingly admiring as it kind of reminds you of your student days.
The twee ‘la-la-la’s’ on the opening Live Again sum up the whole dilemma. But third time around those same trilling notes worm their way into the brain and refuse to let go.
4th Of July weaves the same magic. This gentle shuffle has a lovely guitar refrain that almost manages to mask the most dreadfully indie line so far this year: “when I was 21, or was it 22?”
Gradually the album reveals its theme, a cycle of songs about falling in love, losing it, finding it again, and then falling out of love for the final time. And despite the occasional lapse into cloying sentimentality (Press Play (And Then Repeat)), Meade largely succeeds in crafting a subtle and intimate diary of her love life.
Art Project works best when Meade strips away the indie pop layering and sings alone over her own acoustic guitar. Red Flowers is a beautifully restrained modern folk song that suits Meade’s girlish vocals, while her cover of the old Carter Family standard Wildwood Flower (featuring Anna Padgett of The Naysayer) is ramshackle but endearing.
Occasionally she nails the perfect indie pop melody as well. Opposite sweeps along in a very satisfying manner that echoes the best of The Sundays, while Like Letting Go Of The Sun mines a darker seam courtesy of an effective string arrangement.
The album also includes its own fair share of missteps as well. Dream Another Day hijacks a jaunty reggae beat to no real purpose and is mercifully brief, and the closing Oh Peggy! manages to sound Debbie Harry backed by ELO, which is not a good thing.
Meade holds down a day job to finance her sporadic forays into music. While that gives her artistic license to indulge whatever fancy passes her way, it is to be hoped that her next album injects a bit of the alt-rock passion of Juicy into proceedings. At 25 minutes long, Art Project is both too brief and a little too lightweight to pass muster.