AWM Presents: Favorite Albums of 2012

It’s that magical list-y time of year again, and when I began to think about who to put on my “Favorites of 2012” list, I was honestly a little disheartened. It took me a long time to even think up 10 contenders, let alone contenders I was even familiar with. I knew who would be in my top 5 fairly easily, but beyond that, it seemed like a wasteland. I sat, sadly envious as I watched other respected bloggers come up with huge lists of the top 50 records they’d found this year, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to confidently and comfortably supply something so supple.

I spent much of this year catching up with new favorite music from 2011 — the Drums’ Portamento, M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and old Los Campesinos! albums. I played these on repeat (as my boyfriend can attest), so I didn’t have much time for “new” new music. But, after digging through, and truly spending time with, what 2012 had to offer, I realized I’d overlooked some incredible music and came to adore my favorites even more. My list’s order hopped around a few different times, but I feel good about where it has all settled out. I especially love how many amazing ladies I’ve got on this list.

I hope this list helps you realize the splendor of 2012 music, and perhaps helps you discover some year-end favorites for yourself.


SXSW 2012 – Bands to See

It always creeps up on me. One minute, my friends and I are lamenting the fact that South by Southwest is over, and we have to wait a whole year before we do it all again. The very next, it”s time for a constant barrage of music, libations, and general merriment. And so, here we are again, poised on the edge of greatness (or a great catastrophe, depending on how organized you are). What”s that, you say? You don”t even know who is playing this year? Worry not, o yon procrastinator! That”s what I”m here for. I”ve scoured the SXSW lineup this year and have come up with the below suggestions of bands you really can”t miss. Per our usual format, you”ll find below the name of an incredible band, a brief description of what they”re like, a video of a song that encapsulates what they”re about, and the venues & showtimes where you can actually find them. Some are new to me, some are old favorites. Either way — buckle up. It”s going to be a bumpy ride.


Win a canvas of your photograph and decorate my home!

My lovely readers, some of you may know that I am about to move in with my amazing and also-music-writer boyfriend, Zack Teibloom from Festival Crashers. We are excited to share a space (and a bitchin’ vinyl collection) together, but we need some help with pulling together awesome stuff for our walls. Serendipitously for us, the fine people at Canvas Prints have offered to print out some concert photos so we can rockify our apartment.

This is where you come in. We are each hosting a separate contest for Austinites with concert photos, wherein we will pick winners and not only will your fabulous pics get put up in our place, but you, too, will take home a canvas of your winning photograph. The canvas the winner receives will be 14″x11″. Sound good? Read on for rules:

  1. You’ve gotta do some ‘liking’ of Canvas Prints, because we like them for letting us run this contest. PLUS, by ‘liking’ them on Facebook, every single one of you gets 50% off of your next order, and free shipping. So no matter what, everyone’s a winner.
  2. You’ve gotta submit a photo of one of these Texas bands, because – let’s be honest, we want our favorites displayed. (This is where the photo contests differ. Check out Festival Crashers for more winning.) Here are your choices:
  • The Bright Light Social Hour
  • The Black & White Years
  • Little Lo
  • Royal Forest
  • Brazos (Old skool!/Extinct :(  )
  • Sarah Jaffe
  • The Boxing Lesson
  • Spoon

The contest runs from now until July 15, the day before The Great Migration, and we’ll announce the winners post-move that Monday. Please email your entries to: caitlin AT austinwritesmusic DOT com. You can submit up to 10 photos, and make sure you link directly to your submission (not just your general photo site for us to peruse).

Also, for more chances to win free shwag, be sure to follow Canvas Prints on Twitter.

Sarah Jaffe Folks Up Robyn

My adoration for awesome female singers knows no bounds, but Sarah Jaffe and Robyn are definitely at the top of my all-time favorites list. Imagine my glee at discovering Jaffe’s reinterpretation of our favorite Swedish pop star on Billboard. Check it out:

Sarah Jaffe played new songs for new fans at La Zona Rosa

All photos by Felicia Graham

In the stagnant, muggy evening air of Austin at La Zona Rosa, Sarah Jaffe was a breath of fresh air. The Rhett Miller-dubbed “jewel of the evening, Texas’ own” Jaffe was playing to a different crowd than I’ve seen her perform for in the past. Though she and headliners Old 97s are both Texas natives, their musical styles are quite different, and Jaffe had to compete against the audience’s yapping during her set. However, her voice once again cut through the night, soaring above the clutter and filling the large venue comfortably. I actually wrote in my notes in the middle of her set, “She could fill the damn world with that voice.”

Jaffe opened up with the piece I was hoping for, her new intro that bleeds into an old song, “Under.” She begins the song onstage alone, her voice accompanied only by a prerecorded track on her iPod. Then her bandmates filtered in, and the tune bellowed deeply in the night. The more I see her perform, the more polished Jaffe sounds, which makes her a joy to return to time and time again. And she loves to return:  “Austin, you do know how much I love you,” she said, as if she were talking to a partner.

She put on an almost British accent as she joked between songs, “Alright, we’ll be playing ballads the rest of the night.” The room was quiet, and she screwed up her nose, saying, “It was a joke. Got absolutely no reaction with that. Alright. A joke.” She jumped into the first of a few new songs that will be released on her EP, The Way Sound Leaves the Room, slated for release in August. “A Sucker for Your Marketing” features echoing, near-desperate vocals that jump between her and her backup singers.

“Vulnerable” came next, with its reinvented, almost a cappella opening, before she broke into a fierce rock face and jammed it out. She followed that song by saying in a goofy, nerdy accent, “I have a question for y’all. …you guys like to partyyy?” There was a bit of whooping before she said, “Well you’re in the wrong place! There’s none of that here.” Following laughter, she broke into “All That Time,” which has become the introduction for her hit, “Clementine.” This was the song that garnered the most crowd reaction, which put a giant grin on Jaffe’s face. As she strummed the opening chords, she said lovingly, “Feel free to sing — you made this song what it was.” Wild whooping and hollering followed to chorus of voices chiming in for the tune, and you could physically feel the love bubbling out of the crowd. It turned the claustrophobic, humid atmosphere warm and cozy.

Next up was a cover of a Harry Nilsson song, “Me and My Arrow.” Jaffe has mentioned Nilsson many times before in interviews, and she made the song sound modern and almost hip-hop (perhaps not so surprising, since Blackalicious has sampled the song). “When You Rest,” another new EP song, was next, and this is probably my favorite new track she’s performed so far. Playing into her hip-hop experimentation, the song has an arresting beat — it’s practically begging to be sampled.

“Even Born Again,” from Jaffe’s first EP, always feels like she’s saving it for herself. She closes her eyes and makes herself completely vulnerable, getting lost in her song and whatever place it came from within her. It’s a brave thing for an artist to expose herself so nakedly, but Jaffe is a brave woman and welcomes you into her emotions as she closes the song, eyes now open, with a delicate, “La la-dum.”

Jaffe closed out her set with a sing-along, and the opening track to Suburban Nature. Unfortunately, the crowd of Old 97s fans was too self-conscious to really let loose and play along, but a good enough portion of the crowd participated as Jaffe directed us to sing “Oh-oh-oh-oh,” as she promised, “I have a feeling it could be really, really epic,” if we all chimed in. I’ve heard crowds get much louder for Jaffe at smaller gigs, but she still enjoyed the chorus she created as she jumped into the drum-and-bass-heavy tune. When Jaffe was done, and after thanking her bandmates and tourmates one last time, she had drummed up a strong and sincere round of applause, and a line formed to purchase her music and say hello to her in the back of the venue, at the merch table. Once again, Jaffe is proving that with devastating talent and a sincere, good heart, you can win over fans wherever you go.

The most heartfelt and gigantic of thanks to the fabulous Felicia Graham for capturing this Texas jewel.

Sarah Jaffe returns to Austin – La Zona Rosa TONIGHT

Sarah Jaffe : All That Time from Kirtland Records on Vimeo.

Texas heroine and blog favorite Sarah Jaffe is bringing her honeyed voice and lovely, quick wit back to Austin today for her show at La Zona Rosa. You know that music that just fills your heart and stops you dead in your tracks, your breath caught in your throat? That’s the music Jaffe makes.

Best known now for her single, “Clementine,” Jaffe has been cooking up some really interesting new music of late, playing with pedals and new instruments onstage but sounding just as polished as ever. Merely turning on the teaser video I included at the head of this post, I already have goosebumps all over. Jaffe is a star, and if you haven’t been able to bask in her wonderfulness, you really need to get yourself to this gig. She’ll be opening for hometown heroes Old 97s, so you can rest assured it’ll be a solid show from front to back.

If we’re lucky, Jaffe will bust out “Under” with her new, haunting intro featuring layered vocals that vibrate your guts. It’s a safe bet she’ll bust out “Clementine” and “Vulnerable,” two live staples and singles from her debut full-length record Suburban Nature. These and many other new and wonderful songs are all in store. Open your heart and prepare to fall in love.

SXSW 2011 – Favorite Bands

South by Southwest 2011 has come and gone, and in its path of destruction, it has also left behind a lot of great new music to enjoy. This was the most difficult year for me to navigate the conference, because it was the first where I was working a full time job most of the week. Still, I happened upon some exciting new discoveries and also enjoyed some of my well-established favorites, and am happy to pass it all along to you.

1, 2, 3 — Ever since this group’s grungy pop tune “Confetti” lodged itself into my brain, I was pumped to see 1, 2, 3 live and figure out how they’d come off on stage. Lead singer  Nic Snyder (who you’ll be forgiven for mistaking for Tobey Maguire) has the perfect pop voice, hi-pitched but powerful. The group’s onstage presence is fairly straightforward, but if you’re patient with them, they’ll treat you to a range of loose, beachy rock songs that sometimes even hint at southern influence. This is a band not quite ready to have a big breakout, but with tons of exciting potential. If you like being ahead of the curve, hop on this bandwagon early; I think Frenchkiss absolutely knew what they were doing signing these dudes.

Young the Giant — In my South By preview, I mentioned that these guys could end up being one of my favorite finds of 2011, or they could be another “their hit is all they have up their sleeve” band. I can now say confidently, they are totally the former. Young the Giant are indeed a young, energetic band on the brink. If you’re not too indie for arena rock, look to these guys as possible heirs to the Kings of Leon. The guys took what appeared to be whiskey shots to grand applause before they ripped into their set, and I only found out later that lead singer Sameer Gadhia was suffering from bronchitis that night; I had no idea, he sounded so incredible. The band’s sound is shiny and clean, but their energy is so raw that you don’t leave feeling that sterilized feeling you might with a too-polished rock group. Every band member is fun to watch perform, but Gadhia is unquestionably the show-stealer. The guys excelled at their fast, raucous songs just as well as they killed the slower, moodier tunes, and they left us “My Body” as their goodnight kiss-off. There is all kinds of awesome going on with this band. Listen, listen, listen.

The Dodos — These guys have been kickin’ around for a number of years now, but I’d never managed to catch a live show. I had always wanted to watch singer and guitarist Meric Long’s fingers fly in the fretboard, and watch drummer Logan Kroeber’s arms pump madly as he pitched out rhythms seemingly inhuman. It is as simultaneously whiplash-inducing and effortless as I expected. The guys mostly focused their setlist on brand new tunes, which fit easily into their discography. The Dodos are definitely straightforward performers, but their intense musicianship makes up for a lack of showiness. The band had things working against them; they were playing at 1:00 am, and they were playing fairly gentle folk music at 1:00 am, but they were still a joy to watch and a band I’d see again live. And I’ll always adore their lush, rich records.

Photo courtesy Wye Oak

Wye Oak — When I was scouring the SXSW ’11 lineup, I stumbled across this band’s song “Civilian” and was sold enough to know they were a group I had to see at some point during the week. I finally made it happen on their Friday night performance at the Parish. When they first started playing, I was worried; the music was beautiful, but the whole thing reminded me a little too much of my experience with Beach House at SXSW ’09. In other words, I was worried I was going to be bored to tears. Luckily, Wye Oak have way more backbone (sorry, Beach House fans). Guitarist and front woman Jenn Wasner has vocals that howl like some fantastical mermaid-siren’s, and she is so much fun to watch on guitar. Andy Stack is a perfect compliment on drums, adding to the tunes without overpowering them. I think the song that finally really knocked the wind out of me was “For Prayer,” which punctuates with a screaming wall of sound after each verse. It shocks you awake and alive, and I like that kind of fire. And you gotta love another female presence on Merge Records. Got to.

Sharon Van Etten — Sharon Van Etten is, as an everyday person, too cute for words. She’s clearly a total nerd, but she’s a nerd with this singing voice that can grab you by the throat and punch you in the guts and eat your heart for lunch. Her songs are the heartbreak kind, done with honesty and beautiful, relatable storytelling. Van Etten was an artist whose album I’d already fallen for pre-SXSW, and was heavily anticipating her live performance. She more than lived up to expectations, sounding impeccable in a noisy Mohawk as the sun shone down on our heads. The music sounded good (save for one new song the band had to start over; the bass never did quite sound like it was in the proper key). But it’s Van Etten’s voice that is the show-stealer every time. The instrumentation is ultimately a lovely dressing for her vocals, which are deep and luscious, an absolute treat for the ears and soul.

Sarah Jaffe — Jaffe, Jaffe, Jaffe. My love affair with Sarah Jaffe is now a solid year along in its development, and with each new performance, she affects a new part of me and impresses me even more deeply than the time before. Sarah Jaffe has an incredible honey-toned voice, is brilliant at songwriting, and continues to explore new and exciting experiments that, more often than not, succeed with flying colors. She still has a beloved cache of folk-rock and folk-pop tunes from her EP Even Born Again and debut album Suburban Nature, but she now tends to open her shows with an electro-R&B number that leaks into “Under,” where she sings over a loop of her own echoing chorus of vocals. It’s a show-stopper, and has elicited rabid applause each time I’ve seen it performed. If you’ve ever just felt this fullness in your chest, like happiness could be the fluffy stuffing of a teddy bear, except it’s in you and bursting out at your seams as you grin like an idiot, that’s the kind of feeling Sarah Jaffe’s music will give you. Plus, the woman’s stage banter is so endearing and hilarious and personable, you too will instantly fall in love. I’ll leave you with a couple of crude videos of Jaffe’s tunes, just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about (to really get it, see her live. I can’t stress this enough.)
Where you gonna rest your head?
Intro + Under

SXSW Preview No. 3 – Who to See

Here it is – the last preview before the South by Southwest Music Conference descends and we all lose our minds. I scoured the band list to try and find the best groups I could to recommend. Below, you’ll get a quick-hit description of the band from me, a link to a song that exemplifies their sound, and the time and venue the band is performing at. I break it all down day-by-day; if you really love a band, check the schedule to get all of their performance dates (a lot of ’em are playing 3+ shows). Read on, and then get out there and rock!

Tuesday, March 15

Admiral Fallow – upbeat orchestral pop from Glasgow; like if Freelance Whales had Frightened Rabbit’s accents. The Bat Bar, 9pm

Admiral Fallow – Squealing Pigs

Dry the River – Bon Iver-ish vox over sweet, smooth tunes. Like a brighter Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s. The Bat Bar, 10pm

Dry the River – Bible Belt

Fences – Beckish vox, gentle singer-songwriter stuff with a little folksy overtone. (His appearance = TOTALLY deceiving). The Bat Bar, 11pm

Fences – Girls With Accents

Mr. Heavenly – Man Man meets the Ronettes. The Bat Bar, midnight

Mister Heavenly – Pineapple Girl

Surfer Blood – Move the Drums south to Florida to beach up their sound; there you go. Emo’s Main Room at 1am

Surfer Blood – Swim

Wednesday, March 16

Brett Dennen – Paul Simon-y. Pretty voice, pretty songs. Moody Theater @ 7:30pm

Brett Dennen – Heaven

Erland & the Carnival – something familiar about this; like Travis-esque vox with throwback pop rock music. 8pm at Club de Ville.

Erland & the Carnival – Trouble in Mind

The Black Atlantic – saw ’em at CMJ, absolutely gorgeous music. Teitur with more folk leanings than pop. 10pm at Esther’s Follies

The Black Atlantic – Fragile Meadow

1,2,3 – gritty pop-rock with a snarl. 10pm at the Parish.

1,2,3 – Confetti

Sea of Bees – 11:30pm @ Central Presbyterian Church; somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Martha Wainwright. Gorgeous voice, she’ll shine in this venue.

Sea Of Bees – Wizbot

Flogging Molly – the perfect band to get you ready for St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday. 11:45pm @ Moody

Flogging Molly – If I Ever Leave This World Alive

Sharon Van Etten – heartbreaking singer/songwriter with vocal power that overwhelms you. Midnight at Swan Dive.

Sharon Van Etten – A Crime

The Spinto Band – these are my boys. Super fun and smart pop music. Midnight on the Barbarella Patio.

The Spinto Band – Japan is an Island

Young the Giant – This band has a song in heavy rotation on 101x right now, and it hooked me. I’m weary that they might be another ‘The Hours’ for me (where “Ali in the Jungle” is amazing but everything else falls flat), but seriously – watch that video and tell me you’re not curious. Midnight at Buffalo Billiards.

Young the Giant – My Body

The Dodos – I’ve been a fan of these guys for a while. If you’re into heavy rhythms and incredible guitar playing, check ’em out. The Parish @ 1am.

The Dodos – God?

Thursday, March 17

Sondre Lerche – gorgeous intricate delicate pop music. I’ve loved this Norwegian since I was 16 (I’ll be 24 on March 16). Not to be missed. Maggies Mae’s @ 9pm

Sondre Lerche – To Be Surprised

Phantogram – electronic rock, super catchy, bop-able. Playing Lustre Pearl at 11pm

Phantogram – When I’m Small

The Kills – Allison. Effing. Mosshart. ‘Nuff said. Emo’s at 11pm.

The Kills – Sour Cherry

Emmylou Harris – Classic country darling. Plus…will Conor make a guest appearance? She’s play his set at Auditorium Shores for sure. Antone’s at 11:15pm

Emmylou Harris – Making Believe

Miniature Tigers – saw these dudes open for the Freelance Whales, and fell in love. Incredible onstage charisma, great pop tunes – winners. Lamberts at 11:45pm

Miniature Tigers – Cannibal Queen

Maps & Atlases – really great vox, deep and luscious, plus uptempo rock to back ‘em; reminded me a little of TV on the Radio, but I like this better (keep in mind I’m not a fan of TVotR). Midnight at Red Eyed Fly

Maps & Atlases – Solid Ground

Dom – saw ‘em at CMJ, they totally won us over. Fun, dancey, energetic, depth – definitely a must-see. 1am at Club de Ville

DOM – I Wonder

Friday, March 18

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – local funky rock; the baby-makin’ kind. Moody Theater @ 8:05pm

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Sugarfoot

JBM – A blog favorite. The kind of gorgeous folk music that will make you ache in your guts. Central Presbyterian Church @ 8:15pm

JBM – Years/Cleo’s Song

Alex Highton – sweet singer-songwriter from the UK. 9pm at 18th floor at Hilton Garden Inn

Alex Highton – You’ve Got the Trees

Sarah Jaffe – You know where we’ll be at 9pm on Friday. Jaffe is stunning, stunning, stunning. If you haven’t caught her yet – you must. She’s at Momo’s.

Sarah Jaffe – Stay With Me

The Bright Light Social Hour – Austin’s men of rawk. Put your fist in the air and let loose. Momo’s at 10pm.

The Bright Light Social Hour – Bare Hands Bare Feet

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Thao is a beast. She’s emotive and fabulous and crafts kickass pop rock tunes. See for yourself – 11pm at Antone’s.

Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Body

Wye Oak – gorgeous folksy music with stunning lead vox. Great for woods-walking. 11:45pm at the Parish

Wye Oak – Civilian

Little Dragon – gorgeous R&B vox and moody/peppy electronic music from Sweeeeden!!! SVERIGE!! Lustre Perle at midnight.

Little Dragon – Feathers

Saturday, March 19

Man Man – Wild and crazy collaborative party good times. 4:30pm at Auditorium Shores

Man Man – Van Helsing Boombox

Middle Brother – Collab between Dawes, Deer Tick and Delta Spirit members. Old school country-fried rock. 5:25pm at Auditorium Shores

Middle Brother – Me Me Me

Bright Eyes – I don’t even know what to say about this. This will be my first ever time catching Conor with Bright Eyes. He’s my musical soul mate. Dig it. 7:30pm at Auditorium Shores.

Bright Eyes – Road to Joy

Pujol – Jack White’s babies. Raucous and fun. Mohawk Patio at 9pm

Pujol – Black Rabbit

Toy Selectah – mashin’ up the hits for you to get your dance on. 9:30pm at Prague

Toy Selectah – Cousins Remix

The Rural Alberta Advantage – kinda whiny vox (think Neutral Milk Hotel) but if you can get into it, the music is great. Great energy. 10:30pm at Central Presbyterian Church

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Stamp

Ezra Furman & the Harpoons – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! vocals set to folksy pop rock. 11pm at Speakeasy

Ezra Furman & the Harpoons- Take Off Your Sunglasses

Royal Bangs – forceful and fun electronic rock. 11pm @ the ND

Royal Bangs – War Bells

Royal Forest – Austin heroes; will sometimes cover Neil Young and the Talking Heads. (Full disclosure – I help manage these guys and they’re the bomb. See them.) 11pm @ the Marq

Royal Forest – Civilwarland

Deer Tick – Gritty country folk rock. 1am @ Lustre Perle

Deer Tick – Ashamed

Yoko Ono – Yoko! I mean. It’s Yoko. 1am @ Elysium

Yoko Ono – Walking on Thin Ice

BONUS: The Black & White Years are quickly becoming my favorite Austin band. They don’t have any official showcases, but they’re playing gigs every day until SXSW ends. Check out their show list here.

The Black and White Years – Two Reservoirs

Sarah Jaffe shines at the Ghost Room, 1/21/11

Sarah Jaffe managed to sell out the Ghost Room on a freezing Friday night in Austin, and for all of us lucky enough to be squeezed in together in the small, dark space, it was hard to remember it was cold at all. Jaffe’s warm, emotive and personal performance felt like some kind of homecoming, despite the fact that she’s a Dallas native and current resident of Denton. The crowd adored her; there were flirty cat-calls and exclamations of undying devotion, along with thunderous applause, after every song, and it was all received humbly and with a touch of humor by Jaffe.

     She started the night alone on the stage, with a song I’d never heard before — possibly one of her new electronic tracks — that was a total stunner. “Under,” a track from her 2008 EP Even Born Again, followed. It’s one of her heaviest songs, with deep, bellowing drums and hard, harsh lyrics: “Ain’t in love with the world, I’m just in love with its clutter/Ain’t nobody’s girl, ain’t nobody pull me under.” It’s an attention-grabber and a dark way to kick things off, but it certainly got the attention of the oft-chatty concert attendees. Another EP track, “Backwards/Forwards,” was next. On the record, it’s a sweet tune about negotiations we make in life. Live, the drum part is kicked up 100% and it rocks out near the end. A new song, “Sucker for your Marketing,” followed, which allowed Jaffe to show off her newfound bass chops and really got the rock going. “Vulnerable” was a crowd fave that elicited some singing along, and what makes it extra special again is Sarah’s re-imagining of the tune in a live setting. Instead of a well-crafted and memorable but fairly straightforward pop song, this one gets slowed down and really captures the mood of its title. It’s the kind of thing that is like a classic Hollywood-style film — it takes you out of yourself, and you become immersed in the world of the song.

     After the rapturous applause that followed “Vulnerable,” Jaffe quipped, “That’s enough outta you — enough!” She couldn’t have meant it, though, because she brought out the big guns next: “Clementine” forced romantic sighs out of 50% of the audience and it was far and away the biggest sing-along of the night. Jaffe fooled me at first, because she’s added on a short verse to introduce the tune; other audience members had clearly heard her introduce the song that way before, though, because they let out muted squeals and clapped their hands together excitedly before the original fast-paced chords rang out for the rest of us. A beautiful, subtle take on Swedish songstress Robyn’s “Hang with Me,” and then another new tune let Jaffe really embrace her electro-influences. Titled “When You Rest,” Jaffe explained that the song would be included on an EP with similar songs she is hoping to drop in the spring. She looked perfectly natural, leaning into the almost hip-hop beats. Then she drove us right back into the huge, rolling folk-rock she has mastered with “Even Born Again.” After a short 9-song set, she introduced her 10th as her last, to much protestation. “A lady’s gotta have a little glass of champagne before bed!” she coyly exclaimed, and then she instructed us to sing along with her to the opening track on her 2010 full-length debut Suburban Nature, called “Before You Go.” She slowed the track down for the sing-along, as we all “ooh”d and “aah”d at her direction, but then she burst the whole thing open and it exploded in the room and covered us all in its brilliance.
     Sarah never even left the stage; her band headed off to refresh their drinks, but Jaffe stayed behind, telling the audience, “You really want an encore? Alright, alright.” She changed from playful to completely earnest as she looked out at all of us and said, “Love you. I really, really mean that.” And she really did. She kicked off the encore with another new treat, a 50-second stunner called “Logical Plateau,” about that place you reach in a relationship where you get stuck and can’t really see your way out, for good or bad. It was possibly the most raw and emotional tune she performed all night, and it hung in the air after it ended before applause and hollers soaked it up. The two-part “Pretender” was next, a more subdued song that was truly haunting in the high-ceilinged space, and then Jaffe pulled out an audience pleaser to wrap things up with “Summer Begs.” She invited everyone to sing along, but people kept their singing to quiet whispers, letting Sarah’s voice remain the focus.
     Sarah Jaffe’s music is, in itself, captivating. Sarah Jaffe as a performer is unstoppable. She is a joy to watch, her voice is brimming with character, and she has the power to erupt onstage. She is the kind of artist that turns me into a babbling fangirl; the kind that make it difficult for me to wrap up a review, because the words “life-changing,” “spectacular” and “overwhelmingly talented” keep wanting to gush out from my fingers and make me sound like a lovesick teenager. In all seriousness, it is safe to say that Sarah Jaffe’s performance at the Ghost Room was memorable, wonderful and inspiring, and that she can’t make it back to Austin fast enough.

Sarah Jaffe at the Ghost Room, 1/21/11

There are some artists in this world who possess voices that speak to you immediately and viscerally; these are the voices that make your ears perk up upon first listen, but then dive deeper into a part of you that is normally quiet, private and clutching. Sarah Jaffe is one of these artists. Not only does her literal voice grab you (it is the textbook definition of honeyed), but also the voice of her words — the raw, honest place her songs are coming from — hit at that tender spot that make you melt. This is why you should be at the Ghost Room Friday evening.

Jaffe is a master of songwriting. The melodies are varied and interesting, her lyrics range from tongue-in-cheek to heart-on-sleeve, and the entire package will roll over you like a freight train, but leave you feeling completely satisfied for it. Live, Jaffe is lovable and skilled. Her on-stage banter is self-deprecating and personal, and her guitar licks are trance-inducing. She had a huge year in 2010, releasing her first full-length album, Suburban Nature, on Kirtland Records, touring with artists like Midlake and Norah Jones, and making all kinds of Best-of lists, including ranking third on Paste’s 10 best new artists of 2010. Most exciting of all, she’s a Texan! Jaffe lives in Denton, and grew up in a tiny town outside of Dallas. Support Texas music and have your mind blown, all for the price of $10. See you there.

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