Almost every song on Jennifer O’Connor’s impressive Matador debut is as heartbreaking as the next. “I don’t want to breathe if I can’t breathe here next to you,” she sings over shuffling drumbeats and a beautifully fingerpicked guitar line on “Dirty City Blues.” A few tracks later on “Today,” her gorgeous vocals lilt and soar as she carefully delivers her most longing lyrics: “I can’t wait to be with you/If only to say/Stay.” But as sad as Over the Mountain is, it’s never oppressive: O’Connor tries her best to grin through the tears on the poppy, Monkees-esque “Exeter, Rhode Island,” and the rapturous “I’ll Bring You Home,” complete with a chorus of angelic-sounding backup singers, even brushes against optimism. As for her overall sound, the closest comparisons might be an equally clever but less snide Eef Barzelay, or an Exile in Guyville–era Liz Phair folking around with Jana Hunter. But whatever it is, this is one of the best albums of the year.
Jennifer O’Connor plays Joe’s Pub Thursday.