As good as Suburban Nature is, you can’t shake the feeling that Sarah Jaffe is capable of better.
Don’t misunderstand me: Jaffe’s debut full-length is as strong a first effort as this area has seen in some time. It’s not unsatisfying, not at all. What I mean is actually sort of the opposite of that. Some debuts — even good ones, sometimes especially good ones — leave no room for the imagination. They are brand-new houses built to deteriorate, to ultimately let you down.
But with Jaffe, it’s easy to listen to songs like the propulsive “Clementine” — to hear her combination of strength and fragility, like a tank made of tissue paper — and extrapolate five or 10 years down the line. What a patina of age will do for a voice already so lived in at 24 years old. How the songs will grow as she sees more, does more, lives more, feels more. Unrealized potential is usually disappointing. In this case, it’s exciting. (Honestly, Jaffe is probably capable of better right now: Suburban Nature was recorded almost two years ago, and I doubt she’s regressed during that time.)
That said, Suburban Nature is more, much more, than foreshadowing, a calling card for things to come. Opener “Before You Go” feels as quiet and epic as a sunrise, building into a sweeping finale that shows Jaffe’s soulful moan doesn’t need words to get the point across. And songs like “Summer Begs” would argue that Jaffe has already seen enough, done enough, lived enough, felt enough: “Summer it begs/Begs us to prove/That we can last just one more season/And that, there, gives me a reason.” Ten years won’t make that line hit any any more solidly, won’t make her voice wrap around those words any tighter.
So, yes, she’s capable of better. But if I’m wrong and this is all Sarah Jaffe will ever be, that’s just fine, too.