Light Enough, 2016
Jaye Bartell has one of those unusual voices that’s strangely beautiful despite being unconventional, like Arthur Russell or Morrissey. It’s soft and deep, and almost monotone, so Bartell sounds like he’s in a constant state of melancholy. On his new record Light Enough (out May 6 on Off White Records), he lives up to that description perfectly. He’s gloomy, but with just the right amount of light. His music isn’t fluffy, but it’s certainly not heavy. His songwriting is honest and humorous, sometimes filled with banal observations and sometimes with thought-provoking prose. Mostly set to gentle acoustic guitar arrangements, the songs on Light Enough are essentially folk tunes with subtle injections of 1980s Smiths vibes, deep Kings of Convenience inflection, dark M Ward smokiness, and Simon and Garfunkel’s brand of 1970s Americana.
The cover art shows Bartell floating in the sky, untethered, but with a blank stare, which feels on point with how you’ll likely feel listening to Light Enough. It’s so lovely, but so effortless and subtle. Songs like “G and Me”, “Tuesdays” and “Laundry Line” blend together with a weird sameness that is oddly calming.
[Maeri Ferguson, No Depression]
When Massachusetts-born poet-turned-songwriter Jaye Bartell asks “don’t you know me? I am your oldest friend” in the closing moments of his curious, captivating debut, you’d have a tough time calling him a liar. His offbeat turn of phrase and bedraggled drawl recall a long line of enigmatic weirdos that includes Lou Reed, a touch of Patti Smith and most definitely Nick Cave, with whom he shares a fondness for all things gloomy and macabre.
While you wouldn’t call it gothic – Bartell’s soft guitar tone and spartan arrangements are easy on the ear – his music is undeniably eerie. “Sweep up the glass with your eyelashes,” he patiently demands on one track as hyper-tight guitar strings tinkle like razorwire. “The ghost is me,” he reveals on another. Yet for all its nihilistic overtones, Loyalty isn’t a morose record. Instead, Bartell’s response to feelings of existential emptiness like is a long wistful sigh – a familiar sound, but a poignant one.