Darren Jessee | Remover (Bar/None)

Best known as the drummer in Ben Folds Five, Darren Jessee has long been an accomplished songwriter in his own right. In addition to his own work under his own name and as Hotel Lights, Jessee wrote or co-wrote a number of Ben Folds Five tracks, including “Where’s Summer B.?”, “Brick,” “Magic,” and “Sky High.” His heartfelt tunes were always easily identifiable, even when sung by someone else, and served as their records’ emotional anchors. It’s little surprise that Remover extends that earnest, low-key vibe. Jessee’s pensive, genuine songwriting wears its heart on its sleeve and is never afraid to dive into the weeds of what makes relationships work (and not work).

“Along the Outskirts” is a bittersweet reminiscence, full of the kind of thoughts that circle around in your mind while walking around the city on a winter night when you can’t sleep, pulling your coat tightly around you as you see every breath dissipate into the pooling streetlights. The gauzy, thoughtful “Dead Weight” swells with the moving string arrangement by Trey Pollard, and sounds like a distant relative of Elliott Smith.

Evocative lead single “Cape Elizabeth” swoons and sighs, bobbing on gently strummed acoustic guitar and strings. It sounds like the wistful final hour of a Sunday afternoon picnic or last day of vacation, equating the anxious thrill of taking a chance on someone with dipping your toes in the bracing cold of the New England sea. You can practically smell the salty marine air and feel your heart pound with the joyful terror of possibility.

“Letdown” is an autumnal shuffle, with chiming guitars reminiscent of Josh Rouse. It resounds with the sound of fallen leaves crunching underfoot on a hoodie-clad walk, and is full of the tranquil self-renewal of fall.

This sense of regeneration is central to the album’s quiet strength. Jessee’s hushed but confident vocals are those of a man who has put in the work to know who he is, and fit the generous melody of his music. Remover is familiar but engaging, introspective but never insular, and is a welcome reminder that it’s not how loud you are, it’s what you have to say. | Mike Rengel

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