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Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity” after counseling a depressed woman. According to legend, the woman was having repeated, inexplicable dreams about a specific kind of beetle. During one session with Jung, the woman spotted the exact kind of beetle she had been dreaming about scratching at the window of Jung’s office. The beetle wasn’t indigenous to Switzerland; Jung’s office wasn’t infested with bugs; there was no logical explanation for its visit to the woman’s therapy session that day. “Synchronicity” is Jung’s explanation for the unexplainable — the universe’s way of letting us know that there is order to the disorder we experience. There’s a reason for every obstacle on the road, and these “cosmic winks” are signs from the universe that it’s going to get better soon.
Before writing Cosmic Wink, folk singer Jess Williamson spent some time reading about Jung and synchronicity. At the time, Williamson was unmoored in her own way. In 2016, she moved from her home in Austin, TX to Los Angeles. Williamson’s lyrics are full of winks to the California landscape — cresting waves, winding back roads, and El Niño — and an embracing of change. In “I See the White,” Williamson sings about her dog’s graying fur and the constant reminder it brings of the passage of time. But “the white” isn’t the anticipation of death. Williamson is optimistic, and the refrain of the song is a sort of hippie carpe-diem: “We don’t make time / We take time / We take our time.” Williamson’s bright voice and Shane Renfro’s sunny acoustic guitar suggest that there’s nothing scary about “seeing the white.”
Album highlight “White Bird” might be the closest Williamson comes to expressing fear, but it’s again steeped in hope for the future. In addition to her cross-country move, Williamson also fell in love between the release of sophomore album, Heart Song, and the recording of this album. Williamson calls out images that would be pessimistic in any other song — a caged bird, clipped wings, closed gates — but the love that keeps her bound is also the thing to set her free (Here comes / My love / Mysterious thing / Holding the lock / Holding the key). The caged white bird “can’t get saved,” but she also “can’t get hurt.”
Williamson’s voice is gentle and dreamy, comfortable in the atmospheric, acoustic folk she’s done in her past two albums, but just as agile as she stretches to more pop-leaning songs. “I See The White” and “Awakening Baby” have earworm choruses that stick in your head long after the album’s nine songs are over. In “Awakening Baby,” Williamson somehow finds a dozen different ways to pronounce the word “baby,” and the repetition of the chorus has a swelling effect.
If the first half of the album is growth and blooming, Cosmic Wink reaches its climax with the sultry jam “Dream State.” Williamson sings the verses with broody anticipation (“You’re my mirror, I’m not ready to touch you yet”), and the chorus is all cathartic yowling (“I am close to my dream / Close to my dream state”). She pulls back away for the verses, teasing again. Williamson is challenging herself and her band, demonstrating its athleticism in going from straining guitars to a quiet fade-out. Williamson has been compared to Angel Olsen before, and this album is her My Woman — elastic, genre-bending, fuzzy folk, and the best of her career so far.
Williamson said that part of her rationale for naming the album Cosmic Wink was her synchronic intuition that her career would reach a crucial crest after seven years of work. Cosmic Wink was released nearly seven years to the day of her first live performance, and it’s Williamson’s most dynamic release yet. Williamson is evidently embracing change and growth, and Cosmic Wink is a sign from the universe that she’s heading for an even brighter future.
Cosmic Wink is out now via Kemado/Mexican Summer Records. Get it here and stream it below.