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Courtesy of Kiam Records
Thanks to her dry, deadpan delivery, Jennifer O’Connor could fool a careless listener into thinking she’s cool and detached. Au contraire. On her fine sixth album, and first outing in five years, this unassuming yet gifted singer-songwriter quietly injects her catchy folk-pop with shots of undiluted raw emotion, telling gripping stories of hearts in turmoil without slipping into cheesy melodrama. As evidenced by the use of her music in an iPhone ad and such TV shows as Orange Is the New Black, O’Connor can craft smooth melodies you’ll want to hum all day, but her real gift is the casually tossed-off lyric that cuts straight to the heart of a desperate situation. “Where do you go, when the road ahead just ends?/’Cause you made the same wrong turn over and over again,” she murmurs in “The Road,” while “It’s Gonna Get Worse” finds her calmly asking, “Tell me why you stand there, staring at your feet,” adding tersely, “Take out the trash.” Elsewhere, the hushed closing track “Black Sky Blanket” would do Lou Reed proud. Title to the contrary, Surface Noise is insightful, subtle, and intriguing.