Perhaps knowing that Vanessa Jollay is part of Sailor Poon, and seeing this project branded under the forceful, punk-ish sounding name Tearjerk, you might expect Face to Face to offer something along the lines of the Poon’s chaotic, restless and likably prickly punk and postpunk. You’d be wrong, naturally. Nor is Tearjerk, thankfully, a factory of songs designed to make you weep.
What we’ve got here, instead, is folk-rock and dreamy folk-pop that variously echoes older Sharon van Etten, latter-day Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow at some of her best, maybe even a little Lucinda Williams. Probably other comps that aren’t coming to me, too. Jollay is one of those overachievers who’s piling the projects on her plate and making those of us who are in just one band, or perhaps zero, look lazy. Tearjerk hews a little closer to her other recent project, Sand Wish — at least to the one song that’s available there on its Bandcamp — then it does to Sailor Poon. But really, Tearjerk and Face to Face are their own thing, and a rewarding thing it is.
The title track is produced fairly exquisitely, riding to a strong, speaker-filling, rueful peak on a delicious concoction of guitar reverb, keys and Jollay’s crystal-clear delivery. There’s a bit of a Rilo/general-Jenny-Lewis vibe there, and you won’t be mad about it. Opener “Many Hours” has that old-Sharon thing going on, particularly on the chorus, beefing things up with some sticky pedal-steel.
On “Can’t You See I’m Changin’,” an achingly pretty and evocative acoustic-driven ballad, Jollay’s playing-atop-a-deck-in-the-woods vocal is extra prominent, and for good reason: it features words that deftly marry imagery and introspection: “The stars picked me up and shook me/Commanded I listen/I’ve opened blackout curtains, dug up wisdom from within … And if you see my cryin’, that’s when I’m feeling free/You’re looking at me cryin’, I’m letting off my old steam.” “Show You” jars and chugs with gritty rhythm guitar reminiscent of “If It Makes You Happy,” providing the muscle that lifts this into a low-key bashing, and high-key intricate, piece of folk-rock.
The usual caveat applies with EPs and giving them a rating: They give you only so much to chew on, only so much to evaluate and only so much in the way of feeling like you’ve gotten enough music for your time. But Face to Face not only gets better the more you listen to its six tracks; the more you listen, it also stands out more from records and artists it may seem to echo. That’s a credit to Jollay’s writing and versatility.
Rating: *** 1/2 stars out of 5