Boston-based singer-songwriter Steph Barrak is flying under the radar right now, despite releasing a very good record on Valentine’s Day called Words To Break Your Heart. Over the course of eleven songs she proves herself to be a fine writer and performer, combining the emotional sincerity and intelligence of Laura Veirs with the sing-along pop sensibility of the early 2000’s wave of female Top 40 stars (Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton). It’s a modern record about relationships that feels fresh despite dealing with themes that have guided recorded music since it’s earliest days.
The record goes into some pretty dark places, but keeps a sunny disposition for the most part. Even in a song about feeling trapped-either by obligation or fear-the drums are driving and the vocals soaring with words like: “If I were to go, I know you’d be upset , but everything I am can be purchased or created again. I don’t think it’s fair, I’m so easily replaced , but it’s just the way I’ve been evolving.
All of the slower songs are found at the end of the record, which provides a strange dynamic. I would guess it was done on purpose, to reflect the pattern of a doomed relationship-starts fast and optimistic and then crashing down suddenly. “Married A Robber” is probably the best of the closing tracks. It’s a well-crafted tune with haunting lyrics and a guitar lead more pronounced than anywhere else on the record.
My favorite song is the third track, “Robot.” It reminds me of Execution Of All Things-era Rilo Kiley. I can already imagine the crowd singing along with the last verse in a great moment of crowd participation to close out a live show. I don’t remember ever hearing such a fun song about an unfeeling automaton.
I’ve been listening to Words To Break Your Heart off and on for the past couple weeks, and it doesn’t get played out like a lot of albums do. It’s a smart pop record, which I’ve been hearing more and more of lately, especially out of Boston. Must be something in the water up there. You can check it out for yourself via free streaming or “Pay What You Want” on Steph’s Bandcamp page.