There’s a beautiful dichotomy to many of the songs found on Faith Healer’s sophomore album Try ;-), with tracks like “Might as Well” as buoyant musically as they are harrowing from a lyrical standpoint. That’s not by accident. Like many of us, Calgary singer-songwriter Jessica Jalbert is living proof that life can be complicated, lightness often competing with the dark.
“I’m pretty miserable,” the artist who performs as Faith Healer says with a laugh, on the line from her home in Cowtown. “I used to think this about myself—that I’m miserable. Then I stopped thinking that, but now I’m thinking it again. But I have an inherently optimistic outlook, I think.”
Jalbert’s great trick on Try ;-) is that she keeps the listener guessing as to which side of the emotional register she’s on. As noted, the album’s music—recorded in Montreal with producer Renny Wilson, who doubles as her drummer—is DIY pop at its most gorgeous. Faith Healer breaks out the bourbon for the saloon-boogie thumper “2nd Time”, does a breezy approach to acid-dipped psych on “Light of Loving”, and rocks hard on “Sufferin’ Creature”.
Mostly, the record sounds confident and relaxed, especially when stacked up against the debut album Cosmic Troubles, which earned glowing recognition from tastemaking outlets like Pitchfork.
“Cosmic Troubles was sort of our first attempt to put something out that we hoped an audience would pay attention to and that we hoped would get some press,” Jalbert says. “There was some anxiety around that for sure, but I don’t think that I was aware of that at the time. A lot of the songs I’d been performing for a long time, with bands and under my own name and then as Faith Healer. So we were really just testing the waters at that point. For Try ;-), the approach was just a lot more casual. It was like ‘Okay, people enjoyed what we did last time, so we don’t have to agonize over every little thing this time.’ ”
Jalbert decamped to Montreal for the recording, jamming with Wilson until songs began to take shape, sometimes staying true to her original vision, at others taking off in unlikely directions. (Check out the beyond-funky breakbeat drums in “&Waiting”.) As wonderful a time as she had during the recording process, the lyrics leave one guessing what was going on inside. Jalbert is proud that her songs don’t lay things out in black-and-white. Much of Try ;-) has her writing in the abstract, but even when she’s playing it straightforward, things are left open-ended. Consider, for example, “You want to go but you don’t/Everybody knows that you won’t/Until you’re far enough away/That you might as well keep going,” from “Might as Well”. What seems like it might be a rumination on a relationship takes on new meaning when one considers Jalbert has never left Edmonton for a bigger musical hub like Toronto or Vancouver, and that she was raised in a household that was strictly religious.
“I’m glad that there are a lot of different ways to come at things, because I want the music and lyrics to speak to people,” Jalbert says. “It took me a long time in my life to hear music and relate to it on an emotional level. I’ve always been very emotionally connected to music and been able to appreciate the poetry of it. But what I didn’t understand was that sometimes, when a person hears a lyric, they’ll specifically relate it to their own life. Like ‘I went through that, and it helps me to hear that this musician that I admire has gone through it too and come out the other side and made something beautiful or interesting.’ ”
Or even miserable, but in the most beautiful of ways.
Faith Healer plays the Astoria on Saturday (March 3).