McClenney’s ‘On A Virgo Mind’ is a Genre-Fluid Mosaic of his Creative, Personal Intricacies
Evan Dale // Aug 22, 2021
There has never been anything traditionally specific about the music of Chris McClenney. His sound is one that is unendingly difficult to define, and that’s kind of the point. Expressly wide-ranging just as the man, himself, who is crafting it; uniquely soft, oft driven by calmly curated key progressions and acoustic – or not acoustic – strums of the guitar; brimming with the delicate vocal register that has long drawn sensitivity into his texture; pointedly fluid in terms of any sort of stylistic delineation; defiant of the construct of genre altogether. And truthfully, we’ll be the first to admit that as a publication exploring the scope of music, we ourselves have at points fallen into the trap of unfairly attempting to build a box around his sound. Neo-Soul, Folk-Acoustic, Indie Rock, Bedroom Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop are all defined spaces that the breadth of his DIY auditory aesthetic can inhabit from moment to moment. But to say that McClenney is a product of, or a manifest encapsulation of anything specific – aside from specifically McClenney – is unjust. This is the man that, after all, through a career as a producer, a vocalist, a songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist for both his own music and the music of many others, also took on the socio-musical project of removing the racially insensitive ‘urban’ term from the Grammy’s. This is the artist that through two projects: 2017’s Portrait in Two and 2019’s I’m Not Here, utilized the extent of his musical prowess and stylistically broad influence to define the indefinability in his sound through an extended play. And with his newest project – his second album – On A Virgo Mind, McClenney is again constructing a space for stylistic breadth, creative experimentation, and the ultimate defiance of genrefication, in favor of the exploration of music as it intersects with human emotion.
What On A Virgo Mind is can be spoken about in terms of its inadherence to the traditional boundaries of style or genre hand-in-hand with a consistent adherence to emotional tranquility and overarching sense of calm. The project – true to its title – breathes of the placated assumptions that the zodiac generation makes of Virgos like the Maryland transcendentalist. Humble, natural, kind, sympathetic, the emotion rings true through the album’s calming, meditative, and introspective half-hour. But beyond the softness and the emotively mellow, On A Virgo Mind also tolls the bells of social issues, and the quiet strength with which McClenney is attempting to bring about change and promote growth both within a listener’s self and in society at large.
‘We’ve been searching for freedom,’ opens the album in a self-harmonized, repetitive hymn overtop the simple yet powerful strums of an acoustic guitar. Bringing to mind the immersive warmth and eternal strength of a church choir, yet done in solo, McClenney’s first statement with his new album is a commanding one yet exudes the innate nature in one of humanity’s longest struggles. Tethered, too, to a series of other intermittent shorts – one a powerful stroll of spoken word (on a Virgo mind), another a bout of instrumentalism (7/8), and another still (27) a manifesto of self affirmations and understandings – McClenney lays a foundation of his rangy introspection; bleeds the most inner thoughts on his Virgo mind.
Between the shorts, his musical offerings meander with the same natural expanse. Leading single, Kerosene sees McClenney’s mellow melodies and St. Panther’s angsty featuring verse dance along a sunshiny guitar riff into an emotive Summertime bike ride. Too Much sun in LA folds in a collaborative rap verse from CHIKA for a soft-toned, romantically morose, and addicting anthem for the broken hearted yet bound for the beach. And underneath that same beachy, bike-ridden, end of Summer, yet emotionally driven expanse, the rest of the tracks On A Virgo Mind also adhere to emotion and reminiscence of place while simultaneously bridging the many musical gaps that McClenney’s learned and always experimental composition brings into frame.