The Things You Think You Need
Jay Nash/Songwise Music, 2008
REVIEW BY: Melanie Love
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/23/2008
I’m pretty predictable with my music tastes; just give me a buzzed-about indie debut with lyrics that revel in wordplay and I’m set. The Things You Think You Need, the latest from Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jay Nash, puts a (much-needed) wrench in my wispy indie-pop rut. With his deep, gravelly voice, a lushness to the instrumentation, and solid, evocative lyrics rooted in the folk classics (Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, not to mention modern masters John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Dave Matthews), Nash’s finely-honed collection puts a new spin on the tried-and-true acoustic formula.
There’s a warmth here that makes the songs so accessible, stemming just as much from Nash’s sensitive and mutable vocals as it does from being mixed to analog tape. Just check out his clear rise into falsetto on “Barcelona,” one of the album’s standouts, which he follows by slipping seamlessly into a lower, smokier register on “Keep On Talking” and a gentle, swooning croon for “Over You.”
Opener “Sweet Talking Liar” starts things off solidly with a whisky-soaked, country-tinged tenderness to it, thanks to the light touches of acoustic guitar and lines like “You won't be the next Bob Dylan / You might not die at 27/ Forsake your brothers, give up on your lovers/ To get the things, the thing you need.” Things switch gears soon enough with lead single “Wayfarer,” which weaves into a sort of jazzy folk with its loose drums, ringing piano chords, and Nash’s deep, sensual vocals.
Still, it’s “Barcelona,” the third track here, which resonates most with me. It’s expansive and elegant, a slow-burner that builds over its five-minute runtime to an explosive conclusion. Organs, airy backing vocals from fellow singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, and lovely lyrics (I’ve given all I’ve got to give / A Catalan girl in an absinthe glow can’t pull me out from the mess I’m in”) – there’s really nothing missing here, and it’s not to be missed.
The album never lights down in one place for long: “Over You,” with its spare instrumentation (and some particularly nimble guitar work) is a lovelorn ballad David Gray would’ve been proud to pen, “Forgive Me” is a rollicking jazz offering, and “Hard Lesson” and “Keep On Talking” are inescapably catchy, straight-up rockers, throwing in electric riffs along with some smooth piano lines. Still, for all his genre-bending, the whole effort is remarkably cohesive, largely due to Nash’s distinctive, grounding voice.
Meanwhile, closer “Awake Now” is its own endearing oddity, following forty-five seconds of silence with sharp plucks of an acoustic guitar that are soon met with some electronic bleeps and a single refrain throughout: “Are you awake, my darling? / I hear you stirring / It’s been a long, lonely dream, I know / So open your eyes, you’re not alone.” Sweetly sparse, it’s a perfect moment to drift out on.
But if none of that sways you, then try this: within 48 hours of its release in May, The Things You Think You Need hit #22 on the iTunes Rock chart, becoming the only independent artist alongside behemoths like Led Zeppelin and Bon Jovi (and nearly the entirety of John Mayer’s catalogue).
You won’t regret checking out this disc; it’s well-measured yet still sounds organic, and most of all, its resoundingly human.