Friday, December 24th, 2021

Cassandra Jenkins – Hard Drive

Suggested by Michael, a very high scoring conversation piece, being a piece made of conversations.


Michael Burke: It was a hard week and it’s been a hard year but this song feels like a reminder that if you stand still for a second you can hear that there is something buried underneath every ordinary and fantastic and uncertain moment.

Nortey Dowuona: When you first hear what Cassandra Jenkins does, it stops you dead in your tracks. With Doug Weiselman’s moaning sax and JT Bates tapping upon the spine, you could have just played this with Cassandra’s soft, nearly invisible voice and walked away. instead, Cassandra speaks gently but firmly about small vignettes that are defining her life as she lives it, that cut quickly through the usual disinterest when someone is just talking. And at the beginning and tail end, the security guard she first meets excitedly begins spilling her guts, guts Cassandra collects calmly.

Ian Mathers: At this point it’s kind of exhausting how much great music I’ve been exposed to via Amnesty and Readers’ weeks. I had heard of Jenkins and An Overview of Phenomenal Nature, plenty of people I respect and love had said it was good, but somewhere in some way that’s now obscure to me, I got the impression it wouldn’t be my thing. That part I’m not embarrassed by; there’s so much music every year, the reasons why certain things never get listened to are just arbitrary. But when I did play “Hard Drive”, as it slowly bloomed into life and then something more, I belatedly realized some part of me was trying to do something I don’t think is fine. Out of… defensiveness? pride? stubbornness? I was listening to “Hard Drive” like I was looking for elements I could reject, reasons my arbitrary decision to not listen to this record was justified; not seeking to explain and unpack my visceral emotional reaction to the music, but instead trying to force that visceral emotional reaction into the shape of a rationalization. It is, I hope, something that I don’t normally do, and thankfully with “Hard Drive” those real feelings diverged from whatever kneejerk lingering ridiculousness was in me first subtly and then sharply. “Hard Drive” does, in general, feel like something that’s maybe here to tech us a lesson (although maybe more in the Platonic sense where learning something is unforgetting it), and in my specific case I’m glad for the chagrin I feel that it had to bop me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper to get me into the room with it and out of my head. One, two, three.

Andrew Karpan: Deliberate performances of pretentiousness generally open themselves up to criticisms that conversations in the lay-language of pop do not. This goes beyond strutting around and harassing security guards at the Met for profundity — if only Jenkins threw a nice riff or two in there, the record would have the smoov, dumb flow of something like “Hypersonic Missiles” or a Billie Eilish deep cut. But form dictates function: this is meant as a tribute to the style of the late ’90s singer and poet David Berman, whom Jenkins was booked to tour with two years ago. Consequently, we are stuck with her free verse cleverness, which ekes out in a patter of spoken word seances that hover just above the small country of coffee shops where people wonder what the rest of the world has to say. 

Michael Hong: Cassandra Jenkins has a voice that tells you everything you need to know about her. When she parrots back “oh, dear, I can see you’ve had a rough few months,” there’s this relief, that finally someone’s willing to say it instead of skirting around your feelings but also this kind of frustration that the best anyone can capture your state is the word “rough.” On “Hard Drive,” she sifts through memories that shouldn’t have existed, trying to make something clear of the past few months that she was merely drifting through. And in between brief scenes of clarity, she pulls together something beautiful. She keeps the security guard’s message but throws away the ramblings about a president she’d rather forget, gliding into a new memory as the full backing of the instrumental takes over. She sings, flying over the arrangement when she remembers what the bookkeeper told her. She rewrites those words when she’s floating, in the meantime rewriting a memory because no one learns to drive that calmly. Every line is delivered with a clever little smile, a little sad but no longer felt like it has to be, as she speaks and sings about how a hard drive can mean so many things — at the same time hiding the lessons she hopes you don’t need quite yet. When Jenkins starts to count off the twinkle of the past few minutes, you suddenly find yourself counting with her, meditating, sifting through the blur of the past few months — maybe years — trying to piece together a lesson, trying to put your heart back together again.

Scott Mildenhall: It probably helps to find the lyrics profound, poignant or perspicacious — if they touch you in some way, “Hard Drive” could easily be transcendent. It brings to mind “I Trawl the Megahertz,” which made much more of metaphysical thoughts at great length; transmitting more than reporting them. Jenkins’ distance from events, even as she is at the heart of them, isn’t so engaging without prior introduction. It’s a shame, because the atmosphere and her delivery create extremely solid ground.

Edward Okulicz: There is a line or two, and also Jenkins’ delivery, that really transfixed me for a moment. The one that really did it for me was “I’ll count to three and tap on your shoulder/We’re gonna put your heart back together” which is just so evocative. If “Hard Drive” was a bit more curated, it would be stunning. But like my own hard drive, this needs a bit of an edit job. It is almost perfect but the flaw is a big one.

Vikram Joseph: Through little vignettes of conversations with people on the peripheries of her life, Cassandra Jenkins makes us understand not only how human interaction can be healing, but also how that healing often comes not from the interactions you expect. In this, and in other ways (the sing-speak delivery, the gently blossoming soundscape) it reminds me of Craig Finn’s near-perfect “God In Chicago,” a song about processing grief on an unplanned road trip; Jenkins’ narrative is a little more personal, more surreal and more humorous, but the two songs share a calmness and an empathy that could move you to tears, in the right/wrong moment. Jenkins ensconces “Hard Drive” in warm, shuffling bass and ribbons of sax and guitar that feel loose and improvised (but are much too perfectly judged to be). Hearing it for the first time in late December, there’s something elegiac and intrinsically hopeful about it; count to three with her and believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.

Reader average: [9.33] (3 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

One Response to “Cassandra Jenkins – Hard Drive”

  1. i want to try and like this song… but something about this feels so mushy and saccharine i can’t fully engaged in the immersion