Presented against the backdrop of a consistent groove but skewed with a deliberately uneven harmony designed to inspire as many chills as it does thrills in the audience, “Clear” is admittedly one of my favorite songs from the new album Affirmation Day by Jake Allen, but I would be lying if I said it was the only track worth checking out on the LP. Allen enters his third studio album sounding more swagger-filled than he ever has before, and although he comes up against a great deal of competition in both the underground and the mainstream this autumn, his performance in songs like this one is what ultimately makes Affirmation Day feel like one of the more important records of its kind to debut in the last few months.
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Allen’s vocal is always in the middle of the instrumental chaos, and whether the discordance is brilliantly melodic as it is in the title track or blushing with moderate pop sensibilities in “Rising Tide” or the robust “I’ll See You On the Other Side,” it’s constantly among the most brooding components of any given song here. There’s a sophistication to the ability he has to straddle the rhythm of the percussion and the riffage with equal comfortability in this LP, and even when the verse is challenging his skillset in “Only You” or the progressive “Prague 6,” he never sounds as though he’s bitten off more than he can chew for this latest trip to the recording studio. That’s a common problem among his peer group, and moreover, the western pop underground in general.
Rhythm is a significant means of expression in Affirmation Day, and in the case of songs like “Living Ghost,” the similarly balladic “Two Faced” and minimalistic “More Than Meets the Eye,” it debatably gives us as much emotionality as any specific verse does. Allen is going out of his way to utilize every inch of sonic space he’s been afforded by the master mix in this record, and while some tracks are more decadently-finished than others (“Indigo Son,” the retrospective “On the Run”), there isn’t a stitch of content that I would deem non-contributive to the greater narrative at hand. This is absolutely a statement record, and more importantly, a declaration of self more than it is anything else.
A brilliant follow-up to the enigmatic Deviant Motions, Affirmation Day brings Jake Allen into the next chapter of his career ready to take on just about anything this industry can throw in his direction, and in a year like 2020, that’s going to go a long way towards keeping his livelihood afloat. This hasn’t been a conventional time for anyone in the music business, but rather than breaking off a predictable quarantine pop album – much as so many of his closest contemporaries in and outside of the American underground have in recent months – he’s getting introspective and self-aware with his songwriting, ultimately producing something that I believe has the potential to elevate his profile well beyond the indie market.