Album Review: Jess Cornelius – CARE/TAKING (2024 LP)

Following the widespread acclaim of her debut solo record Distance in 2020, New Zealand-born, Melbourne-bred, and now Los Angeles-based indie artist Jess Cornelius is set to release her sophomore album CARE/TAKING this Friday through Tender Loving Empire.

With a strong 10-song offering, CARE/TAKING continues Cornelius’s style of heavily biographical and vulnerable songwriting, with reflections on personal change from her new Californian base. Built in collaboration with Mikal Cronin, known for his work with Ty Segall, CARE/TAKING, explores Cornelius’s personal transformations grappling with motherhood and mortality. With a lot of soul laid bare, this release is as equally intricate and immediate as her previous work.

“Tui Is A Bird (The Work)” kicks off the album with a pounding bass line that glues the tune together for the track’s nearly five-minute runtime. Accompanying this are shimmering guitar vibratos and off-the-wall mellotron piano stylings. Combined with Cornelius’s vocal delivery, the song has both a vintage ’70s and avant-garde feel. A tui is a native New Zealand bird (Cornelius’s homeland), though the song is not a zoological ode to the land of the long white cloud. Instead, it is about her daughter, who bears the same name. The theme of motherhood shines through in lines like “I’d do it all for her, she’s the universe”, and is a heavy theme carried throughout the majority of the album.

The second track, “Back to the Mainland” is every bit an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western as it is Adele‘s “A Million Years Ago”. This stirring tune wades in the waters of a western movie soundtrack with moody nylon guitars, echoing strings, and shuffling drums. The tender and powerful vocals carry the song into a crescendo of trumpets, fuzzy bass, and slide guitar, making this one a highlight early in the album’s offering.

“People Move On” is less thematic but equally strong, returning to a more straightforward indie pop rock style. Cornelius’s catchy lyrics are carried over bright and bubbly guitars and piano, ruminating on the past and how people change. The song’s themes are highlighted in lyrics such as “I gave away pieces of my body… I’ll get them back one day” and “I know if I could do it all again, well I would do it just the same”.

A mix and match of genres, “Desire” opens with a ’90s-sounding drum loop giving way to vocals delivered over a simple bassline. Becoming something of an angelic, almost anthemic ballad, there is a fair amount of interesting production on this track. Serving as a smorgasbord of sound, the instrumentation of mellotrons, scraping guitar strings, and odd little polyphonic motifs are a joy to catch as the tonal qualities of the song shift and change shape over time. With characteristically open and raw lyrics, this one’s another standout track.

“The Surgeon” blends tender musings on grief with huge Beatles-esque production shifts. With massive horn sections and harmonies in the chorus, the shifting tonal qualities that are juxtaposed ensure the song, and the album as a whole, remain sonically interesting. Moving on, “Dying” is a total reversal, opening on a soupy synth-heavy introduction that gives way to a straight-up piano pop tune. The thumping bass that kicks in a quarter through is an unsung hero on this one.

“Cloud Postcard” returns to scheduled indie programming, with bright surfy guitars and hooky melodic vocals. A punchy, indie-pop-rock tune about the singer’s experiences of moving away from her homeland, “Cloud Postcard” defies its lyrical content as a rousing, upbeat indie pop bop. As it fades away slowly, the stuttering guitars of “To the Desert” enter, dancing amongst a cruising bass line. Musically replicating something in the vein of INXS, this one has an excellent wailing lead guitar motif and a healthy dose of synthy instrumentation. Not exactly a combination of genres, but a creative mixing of sounds, the small moments of instrumentation catch you off guard and make for an engaging listening experience.

“Laps in the Drugstore” pulls a 180-degree turn, producing another rousing indie rock tune. With pumping guitars, driving drums, and a signature vocal and writing offering by Cornelius, this one exemplifies the best elements of the artists “big and upbeat” styled songs. The album wraps with “When I Was Alive”, a melancholic finale with whispered, vulnerable lyrics, closing the album in similar fashion to the way it opens.

The album culminates in an interesting mixture of indie sheen, both enhanced and possibly hindered by the uniqueness of Jess Cornelius. With an incredibly strong variation in musicality across the album, fans of the indie sound will absolutely appreciate this one.

Where the album may fall flat, however, is in its relatively heavy-handed lyricism and often singular thematic focus. With recurring themes of travel, separation, and motherhood, these songs clearly come from deeply personal and raw places. There is something both noble and touching about that. However, the upfront nature of the songwriting may lose some universality, potentially alienating a broader audience, especially those unfamiliar with Jess. An empathetic and open ear, however, will find something special in the portal to Jess’s world that she opens on CARE/TAKING.

The overall production value and nuts and bolts of the album are undeniably excellent. With solid musicianship and performances throughout, a heavy dose of creativity and unique vocals, CARE/TAKING is a varied, sonically interesting, and impressive sophomore release from Jess Cornelius.


CARE/TAKING is out Friday, 14th May. Pre-save HERE