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Sarah Jaffe: The Body Wins

April 25, 2012  |  4:46pm
Sarah Jaffe: <i>The Body Wins</i>

Sarah Jaffe’s 2010 debut full-length Suburban Nature began with simple measured strums on her acoustic guitar. The album wasn’t completely spare—eventually slow pulls on the violin colored that opening song and Jaffe’s quivering vocals echoed to fill the empty spaces. But overall, it occupied that familiar ground between folk, roots rock and indie pop.

Her follow-up The Body Wins, however, starts off more like Rufus Wainwright’s operatic electro-pop masterpiece Want One. On “Paul,” subtle electric guitar, woodwinds, organ and piano begin ever so quietly as Jaffe sings “On the seventh day, we set aside our brains/From an amateur hell/Regardless of age/And they will never know the things.” The song is followed immediately by brash horns on the title track, then keyboards—both industrial and playful on “Glorified High.” It’s a stylistic leap that works, preserving much of what made Suburban Nature so enjoyable. In hindsight, that album was a lovely baseline full of wonderful melodies and heartbreaking lyrics upon which to decorate lavishly with whatever she and producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Wye Oak) might imagine.

On the middle third of the album, that direction is soulful and sad, punctuated by piano or organ and always that voice—powerful but restrained like deep water behind the dam. And that dam seems to be built from Jaffe’s uncertainties, an ever-present discomfort with her own skin and a tentative approach to relationships. “I gave you my guts, you gave me your limbs,” she accuses in the title track, and “Still a mannequin woman/Can’t set myself in motion,” she adds in “Mannequin Woman.” Even “Hooray For Love” is sung like a dirge—more of a commemoration of what was than a celebration of what’s to come.

Things don’t really pick back up in tempo until “Sucker For Your Marketing,” with pounding drums, swelling strings—plus a cynical outlook on love and a melody that will stick in your brain. And penultimate song “Talk” clashes New Wave atmospherics against industrial beats. “I feel ignorant to be certain/Strung out like a fool/I know I don’t need to/But I know that I want you.”

It’s not an album for those walking blind into love, but for those expecting (and experiencing) heartbreak at every turn. But for all its lovely wallowing, it ends with the album’s most uplifting track, “When You Rest.” If not full of resolution, it at least allows for hope—and that sliver of hope in Jaffe’s lyrics is surrounded musically by pure joy. Even when love doesn’t last, it’s always a source of beauty.

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