By Hannah Wisterman
Artist: Jaws of Love
Album: Tasha Sits Close to the Piano
Label: K-Rizzla Records & House Arrest Distribution
Release Date: September 22, 2017
It would be inaccurate to say that all acoustic indie pop albums sound the same. It’s more accurate to say that among the leagues of sad singers armed with guitars and pianos, it can be hard to stand out. In his solo debut, Kelcey Ayer, the man behind Jaws of Love, succeeds, and does so with grace and heart. Tasha Sits Close to the Piano captivates its audience with an emotional grip that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill “coffeehouse” albums. Instead of becoming ambience for the requisite 45 minutes the way many singer-songwriter albums do, Tasha draws listeners right into the core of a subtle but emotionally wrought narrative.
Part of the magic of Tasha is that each track on the album is legitimately interesting. There’s a trajectory to each song that makes sure the melody climbs and transforms. Very often the sound of the track at its outset is markedly different than the sound of the same track at the two minute mark. Not only that, but there are layers upon layers of elements to create enormous depth of sound; this isn’t just a piano album with some reverb. It took me three or four listens through the album to catch the extremely subtle horns on “Hawaiian License Plates”, and just as long to hear the secondary vocals in “Everything.” Both are part of the truly vast aural landscape Tasha occupies, along with dozens and dozens of other tiny details.
Ayer also has another edge: he’s a gifted genre-borrower. His songs don’t all fall into the slow, non-intrusive conventions of this brand of indie. In fact, even within a single song, he’ll use elements of at least a few different styles. “Costa Rica” starts with folk-country-esque drawling vocals, goes through a shoegazey middle section, and ends with something akin to experimental ambience. That pattern of multiple musical shifts is a staple in almost every track. Ayer has been around the block, and those hybrid decisions reflect it. The music sounds worldly, in a way, illustrating a broad array of influences instead of a hyper-focused vision. So, Tasha becomes more broadly appealing, accessible to all.
But it’s not just that the album sounds good from a technical standpoint; it’s that it’s emotionally moving. There’s an old adage that heartbreak makes for the best art, and so critics often clamor after “breakup” albums. Tasha smashes that expectation. Dedicated to Ayer’s wife (and their dog Tasha, for whom the record is named), the album plays like a 10 track love letter. Ayer’s dedication to his family seems to practically reach through your headphones and hug you. Anyone can write a song about how they’ve been wronged by a partner or about how they’ll never find love; it takes a special sort of person to write about love holistically, from the struggles of long distance relationships (“Love Me Like I’m Gone”, “Before the Hurting Lands”) to the nostalgia of quiet moments (“Lake Tahoe”) to, plainly put, how deep love can reach inside us.
Just from listening, one can tell that Ayer is coming from a unique perspective. His voice, soft and with a note of humility, conveys a sense of maturity and sincerity. When you remember that Ayer has been in the music community for years as a member of indie rock band Local Natives, the album takes on a new angle—it’s an album written by a man who has a genuine, deep love of music and creation, and a genuine, deep love of his wife, and who has been struggling for a long time with how those things can complement or endanger one another. It’s not just a generic album about falling in love with a mystery girl and things going wrong. It feels refreshingly real, relatable, and honest. It’s touching.
Tasha seems to revolve around a theme presented in one of the most poignant songs of the album, “Everything.” “I heard you say, ‘If we’re all going to die then it doesn’t mean anything.’ Doesn’t that make it mean everything?” The subtle emotions, the soft moments, the real experience of love—they all matter to Ayer. They matter a lot. Tasha captures the bittersweet life that Ayer lives, because when so many things are out of reach, what you can hold onto means everything. It’s an album to make you treasure what you have, and in that, it becomes an extremely meaningful work of art.