A couple days ago, The Atlantic published this article by Jonathan Fitzgerald, who claims that sincerity - not irony - is "the ethos of our age." (How...ironic.) Now, hipster culture has seemed fairly ubiquitous to me for a while, but when Fitzgerald pointed to the success of "ultra-sincere indie artists from Arcade Fire to Vampire Weekend," his argument started making a lot of sense. Just look at some of this year's breakthrough artists: Kendrick Lamar, who paints a revealing portrait of his childhood in Compton on his latest LP, good kid, m.A.A.d city; Death Grips, who challenged their record label, Epic, so they could release an album on their own terms; Cloud Nothings, whose anthemic cries of "I thought! I would! Be more! Than this!" echo through the minds of their peers, the twenty-somethings coming to terms with post-recession America.
Perhaps it's because everybody's being so sincere these days, or because the folk genre has always attracted candid men and women - except Phil Ochs, who preferred to be ironic - but one thing is for sure: Sera Cahoone is one of the most genuine songwriters I've encountered in a while. Nothing says "sincerity" like playing an intimate set in a record store with only your pedal steel guitarist to accompany you, singing things like "Feeling hopeless tonight / It seems to happen all the time / What do you want from me? You know / Because I'm feeling naked." "Naked," like most of the songs on Cahoone's latest effort, Deer Creek Canyon, is about feeling vulnerable - and that's just what she was at Sonic Boom yesterday afternoon. When she sings "I'll be alright, but I'm a nervous wreck," we believe her.
Then again, by Cahoone's own admission, she was a bit nervous about the performance yesterday. "I'm always shy at these kinds of things," she confessed in between songs. She also gave the audience a disclaimer before playing "Shakin' Hands," "I'm going to play a song that I've never played live before, because I'm not very good at finger-picking." But Cahoone delivered a flawless rendition of the new track, and her fans rewarded her by clapping along (in 7/8 time, no less) to "Nervous Wreck." The small crowd at Sonic Boom was full of supporting faces: Cahoone's best friend, who was visiting from Colorado; a fan she had corresponded with via Facebook, to whom she dedicated "Couch Song," a track from her self-titled debut; and dozens of admiring onlookers, many of whom congratulated her on a job well done after her set.
I felt the need to congratulate Cahoone, too, and I'm just some stranger who works for The Stranger. By laying herself bare before her audience, Cahoone made herself seem approachable, identifiable, real. Even in our era of humility and candor, Sera Cahoone is a sincere musician par excellence. She isn't the kind of woman who shakes hands all night; deep down, all she wants to do is just talk with us.