Jensen McRae — „Are You Happy Now?“ (March 22nd, 2022)
↵ Singer~songwriterka vnáší do svého celovečerního debutu ohleduplnější lehkost a dosahuje rovnováhy mezi bolestí srdce a odhodláním. „Are You Happy Now?“ je pokračováním krásného loňského EP Who Hurt You: předvedlo její schopnost psát pronikavě jemné písně s evokující atmosférou dream~popu. „Happy Girl“, úchvatná balada o tom, že neví, jak překonat hluboký, všudypřítomný smutek prokazuje pokračování předchozího soundu v novém pocitu dospělosti a intenzity.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Album release: March 22nd, 2022
Record Label: Human Re Sources
01. Starting to Get to You 2:41
02. Happy Girl 3:03
03. Take It Easy 3:05
04. Headlock Pt. 1 (Mother) 1:13
05. Adam’s Ribs 3:15
06. Good Legs 2:46
07. Headlock Pt. 2 (Father) 1:43
08. Wolves 3:54
09. With the Lights On 3:55
10. Machines 4:32
11. White Boy 4:00
12. Headlock Pt. 3 (Daughter) 0:53
13. Dead Girl Walking 3:20
14. My Ego Dies at the End 4:03
15. Make You Proud 5:27
Review | By Pete Tosiello | March 19, 2022 | Score: 7.7
↵ The comparisons may have been inevitable given her voice — a brassy alto powered with throaty projection — but Jensen McRae wears Tracy Chapman’s influence on her sleeve. The 24~year~old’s stark folk songs center on lone guitars, with bluesy grooves and linear narratives delivered in second person. Yet the most striking similarity is the way McRae enunciates, mumbling through verses with a shy aloofness, embellishing odd vowels and images before belting choruses with glaring urgency. These punctuations can be startling, but they rarely feel gratuitous in light of McRae’s allusive subject matter: Her earliest singles confronted abuse and degradation, filtering brazen candor through an allegorical lens.
↵ If Chapman’s earnestness is at odds with the meme~fluent, smart~aleck tone of folk~pop’s Zennial set, McRae has toed the line somewhat. In early 2021, she gained Phoebe Bridgers’s attention with a parody song imagining a breakup at a mass vaccination site, then repurposed the track for her June EP Who Hurt You?. The impulse to balance the EP’s heavier themes with self~referential winks was understandable, but it was also a bit superfluous given how well the record’s melodrama worked at face value. Five of the Who Hurt You? tracks reappear on McRae’s full~length debut, Are You Happy Now?, although new material supplants the EP’s irreverent moments with a more considered levity.
↵ The best of the Who Hurt You? holdovers comprise the new album’s emotional backbone. “Starting to Get to You” maintains the melancholy of its opening chords, yet the song’s economy is masterful. Volleying between fluttery falsetto and a forceful lower register, McRae intersperses hard facts (“You l~l~loved me for a second there”) with harsher realizations (“Loving you is habit~forming”); the pre~chorus and chorus stretch 12 bars, lingering like an unspoken thought. Sequenced in the album’s second half, “White Boy” and “Wolves” play like companion pieces contrasting strains of male predators. The former accretes into an orchestral manifesto; the latter chronicles a loss of innocence with barely any melody at all.
↵ These understated arrangements ensure that McRae’s vocals are the focal point, but the co~star of Are You Happy Now? is Rahki, a quietly accomplished hip~hop producer whose mid~2010s output peaked with Kendrick Lamar’s “i.” The album’s sonics are distinguished by an open~mic spareness, bestowing the songs with well~earned breathing room. Rahki’s synthetic percussion is particularly brilliant, drawing attention to small flourishes like the breezy rimshots on “Good Legs” and foregrounded cleves on “Take It Easy.” Animated backing vocals accentuate the melodic pivots of “With the Lights On”; on “Starting to Get to You,” a descending bassline punctuates the final chorus like an exclamation point.
↵ The chamber~pop instrumentals of “Machines” and “Adam’s Ribs” are slightly overwrought, if only because McRae’s modulated performances speak for themselves. Are You Happy Now? is an album about failing to meet expectations, or not wanting to, which means striking a balance between heartache and resolve. “Happy Girl” splits the difference with plainspoken lyrics and a delightfully moody chorus. “Good Legs” and “Take It Easy” border on easy~listening, but McRae shines in the upbeat framework, leaning into the big hooks and sticky imagery.
↵ Her ballads might still benefit from additional sharpening — the lumpy title of “My Ego Dies at the End” is shoehorned into the song’s chorus — yet it’s hard to find fault with McRae’s instincts. Her remarkable voice is deployed in service of ambitious statements, and even the detached metaphors of “Wolves” and “Dead Girl Walking” are purposeful. People have a natural tendency to shrug off vulnerable moments, but McRae knows better. — Pitchfork
By Ayesha Habib: https://readrange.com/jensen-mcrae/