Sera Cahoone Only As The Day Is Long

[Sub Pop; 2008]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: singer/songwriter, country-pop
Others: Neko Case, etc.

The appeal of singer/songwriter music is implicit in the name of the genre. While many composers work alone, writing and performing their own material, the creators of arranged or otherwise studio-minded music often call themselves by other names — pop, folk, and so forth. “Singer/songwriter” implies a number of things: primacy of subject matter, distance from studio formalism, orientation toward live performance. In many ways, it suggests a reversal of some commonplace artistic values, and elevates the personal over the original. Particularly sacrosanct is the authenticity of the performer’s point-of-view.

It seems inappropriate, then, to evaluate Sera Cahoone’s Only As The Day Is Long by the claims of other kinds of pop. Unfortunately, to my ear there is little that sets it apart from much of its own type. Acoustics pick and pluck. Steel guitars weep. Drums are the familiar country-rock palette — kick, snare, hat. Cahoone’s voice is lovely: by turns sweet, soulful, and husky, accented by the occasional harmony. Sometimes there’s harmonica and banjo. You’ve heard all of this before, in Starbucks and on a thousand records hyped during the ’90s roots music fad.

In theory, all of this ought to be okay, because these are Cahoone’s songs and each one represents a piece of her experience. Pop-as-journal is a notion inherited from folk, and if everybody wrote and sang songs, we’d all be more in touch with authentic experience. There is a real yearning for this sort of value from art; with modern, advertising-driven media, there is an aftertaste of inauthenticity to much of our experience. Unfortunately, Cahoone's voice is mixed down throughout the record, obscuring the words behind the instrumental flourishes so that the dominating impression of Only As The Day Is Long is of its sound. But this isn’t a record about fascinating new sounds; it’s a record about the artist’s inner life, and her point-of-view comes across without clarity.

Full disclosure time: I don’t really feel qualified to judge Only As the Day Is Long for you. I’m practically allergic to sincerity and authenticity as aesthetic values, and I never listen to this sort of stuff on my own time. Maybe you’ll hear “Seven Hours Later” and feel really vindicated that someone else has depressing mornings. Maybe you’ll understand what kills about “Shitty Hotel.” On the other hand, I have stayed in a lot of shitty hotels, and my mornings are usually miserable — but after three listens, I don’t relate any better. Is that more to do with my prejudices or the record’s execution? It's unclear.

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