Emily Jane White is obviously a talented singer/songwriter. Her tunes are subtle and heartbreaking, full of empty space around her soft guitars and piano. Songs like “Dagger” and “The Demon” showcase White completely on her own, and these slow burns fill with whispered tension as they go. “The Demon” is particularly strong, as White sets aside her usual gentle playing to make the piano rise and fall, striking the keys harder than on any other track on Dark Undercoat. Unfortunately, when she’s left on her own, she sounds too much like other singer/songwriters you’ve heard before (read: Chan Marshall). It’s too bad, really, because her tale-of-woe songs are solid and distinct, often rooted in minute, everyday details that keep them from being generically heartbreaking.
When she’s got a band behind her, as on “Hole in the Middle” and “Sleeping Dead”, she shines. The songs sound sinister, shrouded in smoke, and the slight curl of White’s voice floats all the better with the band’s stiff breeze behind it. Closer “Two Shots to the Head” is a nice midway point between her solo tracks and the full-band stuff, showing her ability to incorporate the light touch of strings and the occasional piano note over her brand of straight-ahead folk. White clearly shows promise on Dark Undercoat, she could just use some sonic adjustments to distinguish herself from her peers.