[8 October 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Sara Jackson-Holman is a singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon, and Cardiology—her second album—is an often shadowy and moody record shaped by pristine but roiling layers. It can be an affecting mix of sounds, particularly when the music frames her always breathy, evocative voice in further mystery. The pulsing keys on “Cartography” are like long shadows, the clean plinking notes of “Freight Trane” like the corners of a wide, empty room. Jackson-Holman is at her best when she takes a less-is-more approach. They may be standard singer-songwriter fare, but keys and strings serve her well. Unfortunately, much of the record is packed with more obtrusive and obvious textures that strip songs of their power. The drum machine on empty arms makes the song feel like anonymous electro-pop, while the layered vocals and handclaps (with another basic drum beat) force a face-value soul vibe on “My Biggest Mistake”. Her forays into light electronic elements and scrubbed-clean sounds make her songs feel more bloated than expansive, and pull us away from what is a convincing emotional core beneath it all. Cardiology is a decent record undone by a series of bad decisions and over-produced tunes, making moments that should be simple joys into plodding turns.