Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Throughout her career, Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe has allowed her sound to expand and evolve in exciting ways. From the beginning, she's had a tremendous knack for heartsick ballads, but she's also grown increasingly adept at vibrant electro-pop that incorporates her career's detours into film scoring and even hip-hop. Jaffe's two most recent albums, 2012's The Body Wins and 2014's Don't Disconnect, showcase a fascination with science and machinery, with a futuristic sound to match. Now, on Bad Baby, she sounds as versatile as ever in songs that mix spiky synth-pop with softer, slower-burning reflections on the way human beings interact.
"Synthetic Love," the epic ballad that opens the album, takes an portentously unsettled look at the future of romance: "Synthetic love is my new drug," Jaffe sings, as ominous effects swirl around her for nearly seven minutes. Elsewhere, the slinky "No Worries" navigates blurred relationship boundaries, while in "This / That," she pleads for clarity — "I'm on the fence / I feel left out / Reveal it all to me" — with the help of a keyboard arrangement that couldn't nod more pointedly in the direction of Spandau Ballet.
"In the middle of every extreme / There is a part where the two ends meet," Jaffe sings in "Between," adding, "Before you reach a dead-end street / No one really talks about between." With a synth hook that'd make Tegan And Sara nod in approval, it's a song about compromise, but it doubles as a mission statement for a singer-songwriter who's all about finding deeper meaning in the gray areas of modern life.