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Jordan Klassen


With Glossolalia, internationally renowned singer-songwriter Jordan Klassen has reimagined himself as a lyrical poet, as much as a musician. To those that are not steeped in the intricacies of the English language and religious practices, “glossolalia” is the phenomenon of (apparently) speaking in an unknown language, more commonly called ‘speaking in tongues’. Throughout the record’s ten tracks, Klassen evokes early modern American poets such as T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost. The songs’ lyrics are thoughtful and intelligent, beautifully set against rich harmonies and melodic ballads. Glossolalia is classic and essential Jordan Klassen: ethereal, dreamy, mystical, and reminiscent of times gone by and the folk singers of yore. This album is a lyrical essay, with each song like a chapter in a personal journal. Glossolalia is almost elegiac, with its pervasive sense of something that has been lost to the past. Perhaps it was inevitable that Klassen would produce this record now, reflecting on the promise we have all felt of something better just on the horizon, that has since been erased by life in a pandemic that has entered its third year. In Klassen’s own words on this record, “Everything is about longing - longing for change but trying to be realistic about change as well.” The album’s lead single, “Milk and Honey”, hones in on this pining for nostalgia. It is a modern folk composition that explores the gap between the shadow and the light side of waiting. About this song, Klassen notes, “It is a strange thing to live in a time when everyone is looking ahead for things to return to normal, and wondering if you are failing or succeeding in that process. We want Utopia but forget that it is in the cracks and gaps that we often are transformed.” Rather than becoming paralyzed by our desire for perfection, “Carried Away” is an exploration of what it’s like to jump into something with abandon, whether that takes one down dark pathways of the mind into mental illness and addiction, or being swept up by something that is good and right, like a greater cause, or falling in love. Either way, in retrospect we say that we “lost ourselves for a moment”, as we surrendered to forces too powerful to be contained. Record opener “Lotusland” is an ode to Klassen’s hometown of Vancouver, but specifically, the Vancouver of yesteryears, before the city grew to become an overinflated and vastly different landscape of what it used to be; a former shell of itself, where the weight of the cost of living seemingly crushes its oldest inhabitants. As friends move away, the singer asks the city to convince him to stay, and laments what ‘West Coast living’ could have meant. Similarly, Klassen stays in that uncomfortable place of yearning in “Hard on Myself”. The song deals with the choice to take the road through life that represents the “third way”, in a world that is polarized and binary. This is a conscious movement away from religious rigidity, absolute certainty, and toxic black and white thinking. But the other road, “the road less traveled”, to quote Robert Frost, is one of strangeness and deconstruction, and there is a sadness in this choice as well. In a contemporary take on a poetic classic, Klassen sings: “There are two roads where I’m standing, and each one has called itself good. But there’s light in the sky and I’ve got some supplies; I just might make my way through the woods.” Frost ruminated, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” The back half of Glossolalia flips from an observational standpoint, to a more personal, introspective one. “Brothers in Arms” is a personal reflection on the need for reconciliation, with painful rifts in society and within families and friends’ groups, heightened by vaccine anxiety, isolation, restrictions, quarantine, and lockdowns. We are reminded that we are still “Living our days as brothers in arms”, regardless of what goes on around us in a pandemic world. It is a mature, reserved commentary from Klassen that none of us has the residue of innocence anymore: “Oh you aren’t some little boy who needs the world explained”. “Pangea” draws parallels between Klassen’s personal love of history and a past when the world was truly one in a great continental mass. The artist, who can be seen as a kind of Renaissance man himself, takes up the defense of great movements and thoughts of the past, and declares, “I’m caught up in stories from before”. “Ash Wednesday”, in Klassen’s own words, is the most “religious” song on the record, as it reflects on being invited to the table despite his own deficiencies. It focuses on the battle that ensues when one who has lacked faith in the past strives to move towards divinity. This was a struggle that T.S. Eliot knew well when he wrote his epic poem of the same name following his conversion to Anglicanism. Both Klassen and Eliot wrestle with hope and despair as strange bedfellows. In Klassen’s take on Ash Wednesday, he sings that while he is “dressed in ashes” (which symbolize the certainty of death), he simultaneously longs “to see if you’re able/ To raise the dead.” The age-old question remains: can salvation actually be realized through faith? In another spin on heartfelt beliefs, Glossolalia takes a satirical look at the conspiracy thinkers, who have certainly experienced a resurgence in numbers since the pandemic began, with the track “Niko”. What do we do when someone we know has bought into the hype that “the taller tales are proof”? He begs the imaginary ‘Niko’ not to “go down this dark road”, perhaps knowing that individual’s tendency to get “carried away” by such things. The celebrated American poet Robert Frost said that retreating into the realm of a poem, whether as a writer or as a reader, begins with a kind of “homesickness”. It is longing for the place where you know who you are at your core. Glossolalia explores what is found at the core of each of us when we find ourselves estranged and disoriented in society.

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