Jess Cornelius writes arresting songs that capture the disorientation and endless possibilities of being in flux. On her sophomore album CARE/TAKING, out now via Tender Loving Empire, the New Zealand-born, Melbourne-bred and now Los Angeles-based artist sings of personal upheaval with striking lucidity and emotional nimbleness.

Where Cornelius’ 2020 debut Distance found her untethered, moving across continents and entering a solo career after a long stint fronting the Melbourne band Teeth & Tongue, this LP has the songwriter firmly established in her California home but no less at a crossroads. Over 10 intricate and immediate songs, she grapples with squaring global crises and insecurities with the transformations and responsibilities in her life. It’s searching indie rock that’s as biting as it is comforting.

On CARE/TAKING, the emotional stakes are higher. “The biggest shift for me that has happened over the last few years is that I had a kid,” says Cornelius. “What that did is it made me think about death more than I have in my entire life. A lot of the songs are about how much I have to lose now and what would that look like,” Though there’s an undercurrent of fear and a fear of loss on CARE/TAKING, it still feels hopeful and grounded. “I had access to more self-belief in my life,” says Cornelius. “With age, you get better at seeing what you actually have and be grateful for it. I still write about relationships and their complexities with this weird and dark layer but there’s more of a sense of joy now.”

Navigating these oppositional feelings proved to be creatively significant: she demoed songs at home and had the foundations of nearly 20 tracks sketched out. With these promising ideas, she enlisted producer and multi-instrumentalist Mikal Cronin – an L.A. indie rock mainstay who performs with Ty Segall – to help winnow down the material. Throughout 2022, Cornelius and Cronin, along with drummer Steven Urgo, diligently recorded CARE/TAKING over sessions at Cronin’s home studio as well as Segall’s Harmonizer Studios. Some of Cornelius’ demos were kept mostly intact on the record like the gorgeous and yearning ‘Dying’ while others, namely single ‘Laps in the Drugstore’, soar with rollicking, full-band energy.

On the new focus track, ‘Tui is a Bird’ Jess shares, “I wrote this when my daughter was a few months old. She’s named after a NZ bird called the Tūī, and her middle name is Pepper. One day I picked up the guitar and started singing her a silly song: “Tui is a bird, Tui is a pepper, and a baby.” I never meant it to be anything serious, but I liked the melody so I kept working on it. I re-wrote the chorus to better pinpoint what the song was actually about: the pure terror of having a small child.”

For all the newsreel-induced dread on songs like the tragedy in ‘The Surgeon’ and the apocalyptic closer ‘When I Was Alive’, CARE/TAKING boasts an optimistic heart. On the woozy, baroque-pop-inflected single ‘Back To the Mainland,’ Cornelius’ voice cuts through the synth and string haze to sing, “Push your body through / Almost perfect / Almost like brand new.” It’s a poignant statement that even in the face of climate crises, political instability, and personal confusion, there’s resilience.

“Caretaking and caregiving mean the same thing but taking and giving are opposites,” says Cornelius. “I wanted to focus on the taking as much as the caring: What is the constant caretaking in my life and how have we failed in the caretaking of the earth and ourselves?”

Release: June 14th, 2024, Tender Loving Empire