Jessi Robertson’s dark, beautiful masterpiece: ‘I Came from the War’

Jessi Robertson’s music gently overtakes you like a dark and beautiful opiate. She gives all of herself on her upcoming I Came from the War (available December 9). Her essence is carried along within the soul of the album, which makes listening to Robertson an intensely personal experience. Once you breathe her in, you’ll be addicted and you will not want to leave her sensual twilight world of danger and willing sacrifice.

With song titles such as “You’re Gonna Burn” and “Immolate,” and lyrics asking “do we have to burn it all down?” that drift along in languid melodies overtop of pining guitar tones, which rise eerily into the air like smoke from a funeral pyre, it would seem there is a definite theme to Jessi’s record.

“The burning imagery throughout the album is tied to sacrifice,” Robertson revealed in a recent interview with AXS.com. “We learn to make sacrifices as adults, whether it’s a dream, or giving up something we want to benefit our families, or serving our country and going to war. And, there is a religious aspect to sacrifice as well: paying the price that the gods demand. A sacrifice can be noble or begrudging, or even forced upon you. Learning to live in a world that demands sacrifice is something that I’ve personally been struggling to come to grips with over these past few years.”

Another topic woven into the fabric of Jessi’s album is the striking openness of her depiction of sensuality. She sings about “the shape of our lips,” being seduced to her knees, and how the “night bleeds between its thighs.” Her words are crisp and her imagery absolutely riveting.

“I am definitely a sensual person,” Robertson acknowledged. “I came from a very religious and sheltered existence growing up. There were a lot of things that were taboo to me, particularly being sensual or talking about things that were dark or things that should be swept under the rug and never mentioned in public. So, there’s a little part of me that always throws that sensuality in there because when I first became free as an adult, I wanted to talk about all that stuff that I was never allowed to talk about growing up. I was taught that sensuality was forbidden and shameful, but I now see it as visceral, immediate, and very, very human.”

Beyond being a musician, Robertson is a true poet. Her words drip with marvelous colors, and she writes more like she’s wielding a brush than a pen.

“It’s funny that you say that because I think about songwriting as painting,” she noted. “I’m not really a storyteller, I think some of that is because I am very influenced by this book I read called ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ (Chaim Potok) and it was about a painter and what it means to be an artist. I kept finding myself applying that to my songwriting even though the book really wasn’t meant for a songwriters.”

One of the most powerful performances on I Came from the War is a track called “Winter Coat.” Though the bulk of the album was recorded live over two days at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, New York, “Winter Coat” was a song that was done after Jessi had thought she’d finished the album. Her producer, Omer Leibovitz, heard her do the song at an open mic and wanted her to add it on the album.

“I did a couple of takes and I thought they were pretty good, but Omer said, ‘You sound too nice, I want to hear that girl who was sitting with a glass of whiskey and staring at everyone in the room like she was going to kill them... Do that version!’ It really helps having somebody who is my friend and who is also a great producer who knows my music. Someone who can push me and not let me be satisfied with just a good take. Someone who wants me to do a great take!”

And ultimately, that seems to be the defining factor that sets this album apart from everything else that Jessi has recorded to date. The tracks are not ‘touched up’ or auto-tuned, they are the raw passions bled from a captivating performance caught on tape. I Came from the War is much more than a collection of songs, it is a work of art. The intoxicating soul of Robertson’s album is darkly beautiful and wholly engrossing.

When asked if she had any closing comments, Jessi offered, “I don’t believe that I was born a fighter, but I had to become one to survive, and that’s the strange and beautiful contradiction that runs through this album. Ugliness taught me about beauty, repression caused me to break free, isolation made me want to communicate, being in a position of weakness gave me strength. The contradictions that make us who we are are what really interests me.”

I Came From the War is scheduled to be released on December 9, with a pre-release party at Union Hall on December 5 featuring performances by Dan Abraham, Jessi Robertson, and Richard Buckner. For more information on Jessi Robertson, visit her website, like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.