Sarah Jaffe speaks volumes while singing very little on Don't Disconnect's futuristic indictment against modernity.
On the title track of her third album, Don't Disconnect, singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe asks, "Do you still feel me?" It's a valid yet rhetorical question given Jaffe's departure from her bedroom folk debut LP, Suburban Nature. Now embracing electro-pop, Jaffe has followed a similar trajectory to Everything But the Girl after Tracey Thorn's collaboration with Massive Attack: forming the Dividends, a writing partnership with hip-hop producer S1, the duo's "Bad Guy" opened Eminem's 2013 album, MMLP2. Such sonic exploration and musical transformation, hinted at on her 2012 EP, The Way Sound Leaves a Room, was completed on The Body Wins, released the same year.
Stopping short of being a concept album, Don't Disconnect expands on this new sound, juxtaposing human emotion against a cooling world where increased human interaction is becoming less personal and more partisan. The distance between and how we bridge such deltas is posited on the political-hinting "Either Way": "Communication lost / Total disregard, it's not what I paid for / Blue state, red state / Alone in the war / Much to my dismay / Shouldn't it be simple anyway."
On her debut EP, Even Born Again, Jaffe sang, "Ain't in love with the world / I'm just in love with its clutter" on "Under". Then grounded, the Jaffe of Don't Disconnect is coming from a disembodied perspective. The title track's technological connotation pulses along, signifying both the link and space between narrator and subject. Subjugation versus obedience is a recurring theme in Jaffe's music; here, romantic immediacy is weighed against personal restraint on "Your Return".
Having streamlined her lyrical density to pop music's oft-repeated phrases, they do not lack in emotional heft. More poetry than prose, Don't Disconnect's lyrics are concise, pointed, and questioning. The insular rumination of Suburban Nature's "Clementine" remains on "Slow Pour" and the paranoid "Revelation", with its inquisitive refrain of "Is everything a sign for me?" Jaffe's once quavering delivery is now assured and strong, thanks to both producer McKenzie Smith (Midlake) and Jaffe's own artistic maturity as demonstrated on Don't Disconnect's most verbose song, "Defence". A meta-penance of sorts, the song can be taken as Jaffe pondering her own evolution: "On and on / I struggle letting go / On and on / To push the button and just leave it alone."
Even with the change in tack, Jaffe maintains her traditional minimalist framework, allowing space between her lyrics. Here, those spaces are filled in with elements from a broad spectrum ranging from krautrock on "Fatalist" to the synths on "Revelation" that recall the darker moments of Depeche Mode's catalog. Guitars remain, adorning the symphonic "Satire", its biting lyrics easily fitting in with the songs of Suburban Nature. Album closer "Leaving the Planet" equals the bombast of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" in its truncated form.
Foregoing the radio-tested necessity of having a hook within every ten seconds of a song, Jaffe proves lyrics count. Having landed on a sound that tethers the many moods of her ambitious and intellectual songs together, she speaks volumes while singing very little on Don't Disconnect's futuristic indictment against modernity. If not today, in the future Sarah Jaffe will reap the recognition she justly deserves for Don't Disconnect.