Optimism has taken its time edging its way into the world — fitting for an album that will creep up on you rather than grandly gesture for your attention. Austin singer-songwriter Jana Horn recorded it in 2018 and originally released in a small run of vinyl in 2020. Today it’s out widely via No Quarter Records, and it’s one of the most mesmerizing listens of early 2022.
On Optimism, Horn sings in a confident near-whisper reminiscent of Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley over music that accomplishes a lot with a little. The arrangements are sparse in a way that reminds me of her fellow Austin resident Bill Callahan, lending weight to every element in the mix, even sounds that would have been unnoticed accents on a different album. What’s not there is just as important as what is.
That principle applies to Horn’s lyrics too. Her voice lends a sense of mystique to the simplest lines, be they questions like “What is it that you’d like to know?” or scene-setting descriptions like “Tonight I wear the color blue/ And sit upon the couch with the cat/ Who would not like it if I moved.” Her delivery is subtle but commanding; I love the way she shifts from a soft melody into plainspoken bluntness in the back half of this sentence: “I’m my whole self when I come to him and that’s a problem.”
Despite the minimalism, this music is far too haunting and sophisticated to be lumped in with bedroom-pop or what have you. Horn belongs to a more classic lineage of indie-leaning singer-songwriters, and she has crafted a truly classic debut. Dig into it below.
Optimism is out now on No Quarter.