Album Review: Fine, ‘Rocky Top Ballads’

    Fine’s music doesn’t feel timeless so much as lost in time. She writes about days that wisp by and drown you along with them, writing as if it’s the only way to get a grasp on reality. “Oh boy,” she exclaims in a daze at one point, “I still remember the heart becoming you and me.” This you and me never feels tied to particulars – it’s always something, somewhere, sometimes in these lyrics – yet the songs are so textured and delicate that you can feel the air they’re breathing, old yet captured straight from the present moment. The word Fine uses, halfway through her entrancing debut album Rocky Top Ballads, is “ageless,” which is a broad feeling as much as the promise of a romantic escape: “Would you get lost with me, my love?”

    Maybe it’s that feeling that gives Rocky Tops Ballads the glimmer of a long-lost classic; it’s hard to pin down in sound and even harder to build a narrative around. Fine Glindvad Jensen does come from the same Copenhagen scene that gave us Erika de Casier and Astrid Sonne, both of whom she’s collaborated with: she co-wrote three songs for K-pop superstars NewJeans along with de Casier and is in a project called Coined with Sonne. But this information isn’t particularly helpful in describing the music she creates under this solo moniker, which perhaps has more in common with the uncanny gleam of another fellow Danish musician, ML Buch. Its ethereal beauty naturally brings to mind Mazzy Star, a comparison Fine invites by hazily singing “I look to you to see truth” on the final song; at times its layers align it with with what modern listeners might dub “countrygaze,” but it’s also clearly inspired by the traditional folk music of her childhood. Fans of Ethel Cain’s Gothic Americana and Midwife’s “heaven metal” shouldn’t skip on it, either.

    Combining sample-based production with organic instrumentation, the music here – personal, doleful, and intuitive – feels like it’s strange to Fine, too, or at least strangely new. That’s not to say it’s not an assured debut – the singer-songwriter uses a process she calls “magical thinking method,” which involves writing as if she already knows the song she’s about to write. And Rocky Top Ballads, which was written over the last few years, does feel lived-in. “I’ve come to lighten this heart of mine/ A flame still burns from time to time,” she sings on ‘Days Incomplete’, perfectly describing the yearning strewn across it – fervent, youthful, yet oddly mature and even detached. We follow an intimate journey with no clear beginning or end, no set location, between lovers so entwined you’re never quite sure if they’re wavering or switching perspectives. They want to go, and stay, and go back. “Let’s not say/ We’re like wind and sea,” the singer suggests at one point, true as the metaphor may feel.

    The push-and-pull animates an otherwise forlorn listen. On the striking ‘Losing Tennessee’, Fine sings, “There’s something/ I’m leaving everyday/ Something I have to give you,” this something so dangerously elusive in a song so dreamily reserved. Later, the narrator grows decisive, in a state of quiet rapture: “I’ve seen my favourite summer turn blue with you/ I’m running on my own/ Oh I’m ready to fly/ Embrace my time,” she sings on the highlight ‘Big Muzzy’. The guitars echo out to space and her vocals gently soar, though by the plaintive ‘Smile’ they’re steeped back in regret (“I can’t stop thinking about those days at the river/ I wanted time to fly cause I knew somehow/ I’d leave it all”). For all its swooning mystery, this is a record brimming with possibilities at every turn, curious as they might also seem: “I can think of thousand ways I call you a lover,” she offers over the beguiling piano melody of ‘Whys’.

    The characters on Rocky Top Ballads may be lost, but at least one of them hasn’t got their head in clouds; the lyrics are perceptive in a way that both embodies and mystifies their intimacy. “You can’t conceal emotion/ It’s written on your face,” she tells a familiar someone who kisses like a stranger and whose eyes are telling stories. While evoking another intense moment of affection on ‘A Star’, that of a head placed on another’s shoulder, she can’t help but revert to the symbolic resonance of nature, “moon wrapped in clovers,” an image mirrored by streaks of distorted guitar and clambering drums. “Singing songs of joy and fear/ Will it save me, our love?” Fine wonders directly on ‘Whys’, putting herself first – literally, at least – but holding onto both. Empty of answers, her magic is to keep the questions spinning.

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    Fine’s music doesn’t feel timeless so much as lost in time. She writes about days that wisp by and drown you along with them, writing as if it’s the only way to get a grasp on reality. “Oh boy,” she exclaims in a daze...Album Review: Fine, 'Rocky Top Ballads'