There must be something about Denton, Texas
that makes wistfulness a precondition for that town’s young songwriters –
probably something to do with being so close to the cultural void of
Dallas-Fort Worth. Joining notables like Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson and
Midlake’s Tim Smith, 23-year-old Sarah Jaffe’s debut, Suburban Nature, plums similarly plangent themes in vignettes
colored by little beyond accent-instruments (cello, keys, or harp), a guitar,
and stream-lined percussion.
That sparseness puts the focus where it belongs, on Jaffe’s
expressive voice, which is comfortable spitting out bluesy accusations or
whispering intimacies. Jaffe’s narratives feature protagonists in various
states of emotional free fall. The best example may be the catchy shuffle
“Vulnerable,” where love’s intensity commingles with the emotional high-wire
act of opening up. Honesty forms the core of these songs, as when Jaffe’s
narrator confesses, over swelling cello lines and vibes-like synth shimmers on
“Wreaking Havoc,” that “we both like pain,” or when she wonders, on the
march-like “Summer Begs,” whether “we can last one more season.” Many of these
songs are hushed confessions, but the thrumming highway beat that drives the
marvelous road trip-chronicle “Clementine” or a twangy rocker like “Watch Me
Fall Apart,” which builds tension to match its title, lifts Jaffe far above the
average café folkie or introspective singer-songwriter.
This is a startlingly assured debut from a young woman who
appears to have much to say.
Tracks: “Clementine” “Vulnerable” “Watch Me Fall Apart” JOHN