|Front Porch Step - Aware|
Release Date: November 12th, 2013
Record Label: Pure Noise
If I can say one thing about Jake McElfresh A.K.A. Front Porch Step's debut album Aware it's that it is brutally honest. This honesty is what makes the album so brilliant. On the surface this album is made up of slightly awkward lyrics, simple song structures, and stripped back instrumentation focused almost completely on an acoustic guitar. However this album contains something wonderful underneath. It contains heartfelt confessions that sound like they're meant to be whispered quietly to anyone you love.
The album doesn't give you a second to prepare yourself as opener "Angels and Demons" takes all of 10 seconds to hit you with the line "I think I could die a thousand deaths and still turn out just fine / If I could just see your face every day of your life". This line perfectly sets the tone for the album, bold lyrics that could be seen as childish and dorky if it weren't for the way they're delivered. McElfresh sings on this album as if every word is the most important thing he's ever had to say. The next song and title track "Aware" keeps up the simple, yet touching lyrics and couples them with one of the most infectious hooks I've ever heard. Considering that this song is four strummed chords on an acoustic guitar, it's amazing how memorable this chorus is.
The next notable song on the album is "Drown". I'm going to try hard to avoid quoting lyrics too much in this review, but I know I'm going to have to give credit where credit is due to the lyricism on this album. "Drown" contains the first lyric on this album where it's clear that Jake McElfresh isn't just a run of the mill emo songwriter and that he has much more to give. "I'm so tired of the rain / falling softly to the ground / just enough to get my feet wet / but not enough to let me drown" sounds like it could've been ripped from a notebook full of Jesse Lacey's lyrics. When we get a clever Johnny Cash reference near the end of the song, it's pretty clear that this is going to be one of the best tracks to be released by any artist in 2013. "Run Away" contains another catchy hook drenched in emotion: "You left your t-shirt in my room / it used to smell like your perfume / I choked up when it was burning / but I blamed it on the fumes".
I'm going to take just a few sentences to note the things I didn't like about this album. Sometimes the lyrics are just a little too much to handle. In "Private Fears in Public Places" McElfresh sings the line "I'd plunge my face into your thighs until I cannot feel my lips". That's just the price you pay for total honesty. Sometimes the hold-nothing-back approach to songwriting produces awkward lines like this one. My other complaint in this album is that while the songs are never boring, in the middle of the album, the songs blend in with each other just a little bit. This is a result of the simple instrumentation which is often similar and makes the songs hard to distinguish. These are small complaints however, by the 4th or 5th listen (and trust me you'll want to listen to this 4 or 5 times at least) you'll grow to love the middle of this album just as much as the rest. As for the songwriting complaint, the bad lines get so massively overshadowed by the good ones that they're quickly forgiven. Most of the time the songwriting is just so good you won't dwell on the bad stuff for too long.
Yes, all of this record is personal, heartfelt, emotional, and simply moving, but nothing on Aware hits as hard as album-closer, standout, and all-around tear-jerker "I Won't Say That I'm Okay". It's a song about losing somebody close to you (In McElFresh's case it's his grandmother, but the the song is worded in such a way that it can be about anybody). These tender lyrics probably tell you more about the song than any superlative ridden description I can give:
"So I'm sitting in my room
As I try to write this song.
I'm so sorry that it's not good enough,
It's just that everything seems wrong.
And I keep bursting into tears
Because the pain won't go away
Because the Father took my best friend
And said she cannot come out to play
The singing on this song is truly amazing. While McElfresh is not the most technically gifted singer, he is able to convey emotion as well as anyone. The song and album end with a spoken word part where McElfresh confesses his loneliness, confusion, and fear, speaking directly to his grandmother. Thoughts we all have when somebody close to us dies, laid beautifully before us in a song. Maybe this ability is what sets Front Porch Step about. There isn't exciting new musicianship on this album, nor are there deep philosophical lyrics. But what makes Aware such an amazing album is that it is full of thoughts we've all had, but have either been unable or simply too scared to put into words. Front Porch Step puts these thoughts into words. This is one of the best albums of 2013 and Front Porch Step should be considered a force to be reckoned with in the future of our scene.