It might be the Malbec talking, but it still seems like the four-track EP is a plain-sight metaphor for the four-track recorder. The ethic of simplification aimed straight at the song count, in what is otherwise an ocean of low-cost digital self-production and 140-character advertisements.
Jen Miller’s debut EP Forget The Dirty Hearts certainly embodies that ethic of simplification, right down the title. Funded with a better-than-hoped Kickstarter campaign (two lucky buggers won the name-your-cover prize), the album is condensed down to a guitar, a wry and smokey voice, a diary full of verses, and noninvasive percussion. It starts — at least after iTunes inevitably jumbles everything around, it starts — with the landlocked reggae cut “Dirt.” Here her written manifesto (“Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”) is set to acoustic guitar and her benignly acerbic vocal tones. “I can tell you about chemistry, that six equals three plus three … I can tell you that I miss you.” Even if there is a room full of singles at the start of Miller’s live performances, no doubt they will all be paired off by the end of the show. This is music for the early hours of a love affair, those jaw clenching first moments when infatuation is almost too much to take.
Save some butane in the cigarette lighter for the album’s proper opening track, “Doo Da Doo.” Somewhat starker than “Dirt,” it sets out with aching guitar set to dim lighting and her near-whispered regret: “I hate to admit, but if you asked me I’d come crawling.” Her posture straightens a little for the chorus, backed by marching guitar and cymbal swells. Her sense of humor returns, too: “We’re walking, running/ we are coming undone-ing and doo da doo, I’m scared of you.”
The album name comes into better view with the track “Forget Your Face,” a rich pop anthem that bridges the valley between folk and full-canvas baroque. By point of fact “Steal My Heart” steals ours, with timeless, ringing guitar and her just-above-heartbreak delivery. And for those who have saved room for dessert (read: all of us), Miller’s website teems with YouTube videos of her various covers. It’s impossible to pick a favorite, so let’s agree on “anything but Gotye” and select one at random. “The Scientist” by Coldplay, you say? Absolutely:
Pick up a copy of Forget The Dirty Hearts on iTunes, scramble the track order, and pour a few more ounces of Malbec.