“If I Tremble”
November 12, 2013 - Pure Noise
If all of Jake Mcelfresh’s songs are autobiographical, then he has had his heart stepped on in just about every way imaginable. If not, the singer also known as Front Porch Step is a damn fine and impassioned storyteller. With an emphasis on sparse arrangements comprised of a single acoustic guitar and his voice, he possesses a matter-of-fact yet poetic turn of phrase that recalls Hayden’s first record, or early City And Colour. Regardless of his influences, it is very hard to not be drawn in by his stories—and the potent emotion running through all of them.
On nine of Aware's 11 tracks, he oscillates between melancholy and tragedy, hopelessness and desperation, which does not make for "fun" listening. However, it is quite riveting, painting pictures of love lost, never realized or taken away too soon, and despite his subject matter he manages to avoid becoming the clichéd coffee shop whiner who just wants attention. The title track, capturing the familiar anguish of unreciprocated adoration, is particularly affecting, while “Drown” teeters on the brink of the despair that accompanies trying to get over someone who has moved on. No songs are quite as devastating of “The Day You Took The Good Away,” recounting the suicide of the girl he was “supposed” to be with, and the agony of living with that. Alongside its poignancy it is a very beautiful song, though so raw it feels almost like intruding on a very private moment.
As affecting as all of this is, there are—thankfully—some moments where joy and the wonder of being in love shine through, and without them the record may have been hard to endure in one sitting. “Lullaby” is a pure and simple love song to catch the heart of the girl he wants to be his, embellished with synths that infuse greater warmth, though it is “If I Tremble” that engenders the most hope. It’s the kind of song that legions of men will play to their significant others, letting them know that Mcelfresh is articulating that which they would say if only they could do so as eloquently.
While the record is too entrenched in the classic singer/songwriter vein to recommend as a unique work, this does not detract from its appeal. It ticks the requisite boxes in its genre, but it’s Mcelfresh’s honesty, ear for a good melody and from-the-gut delivery that make it so compelling. It might not be the best soundtrack if you’re feeling perky and want to stay that way, but those with damaged hearts looking for empathy will find much comfort.