Winnipeg Arts Council

Jordan Klassen & David Vertesi

When Jordan Klassen set out to write his sixth full-length record, Glossolalia, he tapped into a new creative well. In the midst of recording the record, he found himself continuing to write, coming away from the process with two distinct yet complementary bodies of work. Marginalia now rounds out the collection from this period. The Vancouver based singer-songwriter and producer composed Glossolalia mostly with guitar, creating a subtly blossoming record that perhaps nailed his “fairy folk for troubled times” approach better than ever before. The arrangements on Glossolalia were reduced to the bare essentials to support Klassen’s voice with minimal production. While troubles are not a thing of the past, times are now different, and thus, Marginalia is the other side of the musical coin. It is smoother, fuller, and more elegant than its predecessor.

Marginalia is about the edges of life, away from what is in the mainstream. Technically it is a writer’s term; where we make notes and write insights in the margins of a page. There may be footnotes or annotations, doodles and drawings, but the marginalia allows us to see things with a new understanding, and to make connections that may have gone unnoticed. Marginalia often comes from a stream of consciousness, where we uncover things that aren’t in the direct line of sight. They are what we see by the light of the moon rather than in direct sunlight; inspirations that may have come from the same place in our minds, but with a contrasting feel to them, like a photo negative.

In folklore, the moon is supernatural, affecting humans with its gravitational pull, causing magical transformations, and being blamed for peculiar behaviours. Similarly, Jordan wrestled with this album, creatively, directionally, and internally, questioning its purpose and direction. It has strong metaphysical overtones as a result. Interestingly, the record does not present as disjointed or as having sprung from a place of self doubt. Lead single “Cocoon” highlights this metaphor where Jordan states, “If love is a madness, then I am howling at the moon”. However, he’s not carried away by this legend, as he then counters and assures himself, “You’ve got facts, but I’ve got songs that sweep me away to where I am never wrong”.

While not “folky”, Marginalia is poetic like its sister record, but more melodic and less stripped down than what Klassen has produced before. From the contemplative opener “You Yourself”, which pulls lines from an orthodox prayer, to the emotional closer “Vanya”, a song written as a gift to his sister during a season of hardship, Jordan Klassen once again has impressively demonstrated his ability to evoke an incredibly deep poetic auditory experience. Songs primarily are led from piano with sweeping orchestral arrangements. Diverse keyboard tones are used to move songs forward while also setting an emotional atmosphere, perhaps best expressed in “Old Flame”. Klassen writes about his sobering awareness that he has spent “Half my existence pushed out on a ledge”, as he acknowledges the persistence of his own mental battles. One can easily visualize the songwriter recognizing the emotional power of memories, like a bad relationship that still has power over him even as he tries to break free. “Live Another Life” also expresses the emotional struggle with intrusive thoughts that haunt the songwriter and tells a different narrative where “All the conversations (are) never true”.

In the same vein as the sun-moon metaphor, Marginalia is at times a mirror of Glossolalia. “Casey” is the name song counterpart and companion piece to the penultimate track of the latter, “Niko”. Whereas “Niko” is tongue-in-cheek, addressed to a specific person, “Casey” implores a being outside of the situation to step forward, in a divine intervention. The tracks “Greener Hills” and “King of the Empire” also reflect the theme that everything apart from the spiritual is ultimately a heartbreaking and futile pursuit, insufficient to satisfy the longings of the soul. In a similar way, “Overstep” addresses the human need for connection. We became used to social isolation and accustomed to what once was considered strange for us. Thus we need to push ourselves and each other to “overstep” our bounds.

Marginalia draws itself towards a close with “Where Else Would I Go?”, which lifts the listeners’ spirits after all the emotional jousting of the record’s course. He acknowledges that “The push and pull have taken their toll”. It was written as Klassen saw many of his friends become disillusioned, and leave their faith. He realizes that this is something he could never do, and is reassured that the spiritual realm forms the foundation of his existence, like the divine is “tattooed on my soul”. And so what once was perhaps obscure in the margins is now replaced by an epiphany that “the ink’s getting clearer and what I can read is surprising”. Jordan Klassen’s ultimate message is that what feels intangible can be revealed by peering into the marginalia. The sacred is manifested all around us, “in touch and taste and smell”, there for us to discover if we look for it.