Recently, the mainstream music industry seems to have been feeding its millennial target audience a bottomless cocktail pitcher of skinny-jeaned indie outfits and sad, beardy folk singers —and we’ve grown addicted to the bitter taste of their jaded angst. If mourning your own existence as a member of this alienated, soulless generation—a la Daughter, Mumford and Sons, and everyone else with a banjo and a voice box—is bringing you down in these dark and wintry months, Sarah Dooley, BC ’11, just released her debut album, “Stupid Things,” which might be just the cure you need to get you through. But beware: Although a spoonful of sugar undoubtedly helps the medicine go down, listening to “Stupid Things” at times feels like the auditory equivalent of sitting down with said bag of sugar and digging in.
Dooley’s cute, pitch-perfect vocals are in harmony with the carefree and whimsical sound of “Stupid Things.” Her background in musical theater is evident from the opening title track, in which Dooley enunciates her lyrics like a seasoned Broadway professional, always performing to the back of the room. The power of her voice and the expert control she wields over it is displayed in the force of her elongated vowels and clipped, clear consonants. She can let rip and then bring her voice back in check in just a few bars. Like all the best musical theater stars, Dooley has the ability to make incredible physical exertion and technical prowess sound as natural and pure as if she were singing to herself.
It’s not just Dooley’s clean, precise vocal style that gives her away as a theater singer. Her songs feel incredibly well-curated and narrated, with each switch in pace and key meant to guide the listener along the story. Several tracks are fantastically catchy—“Peonies,” in particular, propels the listener along with a satisfying beat and soaring vocals, its joyous moments complemented by points of slower, more reflective darkness.
Each track is carefully put together, with the different musical components seamlessly incorporated. It makes for an incredibly smooth and professional sound, but at times feels overproduced, causing “Stupid Things” to glide past its own emotionality, foregoing connection with the listener in favor of big band bravado.
When this almost too-perfect sound is combined with saccharine lyrics—the chorus of “Willow Tree,” which consists of Dooley repeating the phrase “I want you so damn bad” four times, is a particular low point—the intended tone of childhood innocence can tip into something a little Disney-esque.
The best tracks are those in which Dooley embraces a darker, sexier sound. “I Shook Hands With the Devil” is a stand-out track for its looser, jazz-inspired beat and sultry, intimate sound, while the slow sincerity and white noise fade-out on “I Want You To Wonder” is perhaps the most authentic moment of the album.
In many ways, “Stupid Things” follows a pattern of female singer-songwriter debuts. Like Corinne Bailey Rae’s 2006 self-titled album, Kate Nash’s 2007 debut “Made of Bricks,” and KT Tunstall’s 2004 “Eye to the Telescope,” Dooley’s debut is sweet and catchy.
It is also musically extremely well-written and immaculately produced. “Stupid Things” showcases Dooley’s pop potential.
Nowadays, I like my angst darker, more self-aware, and a little less sugar-coated—but the fault lies with my generation and our penchant for sad banjo singers, rather than with Sarah Dooley.