A half-realized cosmic vision
For a six-track EP, Gnani is remarkably ambitious. With her latest project released under the Sis moniker, Berkeley-based singer Jenny Gillespie Mason sought a “new wholeness through song,” inspired by the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane. Psychedelia is the name of the game here, with references to “private psychedelic journeys” in the EP’s Bandcamp description and cover art that references Eastern philosophy.
But Mason realizes her spiritual vision only a few times throughout the record. “Flower in Space” is one such moment. It deftly balances her experimental and pop sensibilities, oscillating between druggy, ambient-inflected verses and a tight chorus. Glimmering synth drones and musique concrète vocal samples (seemingly culled from day-to-day conversations) color the verses, while the chorus blooms with a sticky vocal melody and a languid guitar line—both doused in reverb for good measure, like a doped-out take on some pop hit from the ‘50s.
The final two tracks, “Embodiment” and “Gazelle Rights,” are also highlights. The former is a spasmodic slice of synthetic funk in the vein of Prince. Most notable is its jazzy instrumental passage, during which Mason flexes her musical chops with a series of chromatic piano lines. But the main draw is percussionist Hamir Atwal, who owns the track (and, really, the entire EP) with a powerful, skittering groove. The cosmic, Middle East-flavored “Gazelle Rights” reveals Mason’s Alice Coltrane worship more than any other cut while still retaining an electropop feel with its sedated synths and kitschy, plastic textures.
Mason refuses to play it safe on these tracks, and that’s why they stand out. However, the remaining three—“Double Rapture,” “Wooie” and “Light is There”—are middling and forgettable. They simply hint at an experimental side, giving off subtle indicators of eccentricity without taking them all the way.
“Double Rapture,” the EP’s muted opener, features the weakest vocal melody on the entire project, with equally dull synth textures to boot. The song’s outro channels the Cocteau Twins as Mason unleashes ethereal coos and moans over a fuzzy soundscape. Still, it never quite matches the level of immersion everyone’s favorite Scottish dream-pop trio was capable of achieving. “Light is There” gets a little closer with a bouquet of lush, syrupy synths, but it still feels like the artist is holding back—the track opens with disjointed musique concrète samples and sound effects, none of which turn up again, for instance. The buttery drums and bass on “Wooie” lend the track a nice bounce, once again redolent of Prince. It’s not a bad cut by any means, but it suffers from the same problem as the former two, suggesting an experimental edge but not fully delivering on it.
Gnani is just okay—save for a few tracks, Mason spends about half of the EP failing to expand on her promised “sonic explorations,” rehashing common signifiers of psychedelia or dream pop without breathing new life into them. As a result, she frequently sounds anonymous, leaving the listener with just a vague sense of who she is and what she stands for. If only she had fully committed to her weirder side for this project—only then would she have reached the cosmic heights of her influences.