Sarah Bethe Nelson – Paying


When you’re a bartender, you develop a thick skin to handle the drunken idiots and jerks who can make your job hell. But if you work at a Mission District dive bar to support a career as a singer-songwriter, it really helps to develop added immunity against the artifice and superficial novelty, musical or otherwise, cultivated by San Francisco hipsters. Just ask Sarah Bethe Nelson, whose debut album Fast-Moving Clouds introduces a self-assured, original artist that bucks the trends of her genre.

Fast-Moving Clouds features deceptively simple, snappy tunes that draw upon several decades of classic pop styles. Yet there are subtle, engaging nuances to explore, from the windswept instrumental outro on the bouncy “Start Somewhere” to the haiku-like minimalism of “Snake Shake.” The album also presents a compelling lyrical perspective. “Paying,” its first single, gives a bartender’s take on the decision to let go of a romantically ambiguous relationship and the self-absorbed illusions that it entangles with.

I suspect the fact that Sarah Bethe Nelson is 37 years old may explain some of the album’s charms. (No disrespect intended, SBN — the writers of SIO are all older than that.) On the heels of years spent in various San Francisco bands, Fast-Moving Clouds is the work of “finding your voice” that you expect of a debut solo album, but with none of the coyness or pretension that someone 15 years younger might fall into. (We get a lot of those albums here at SIO.) The uncontrived, fairly straightforward songs on Fast-Moving Clouds reveal a character of personality that, along with her songwriting chops, makes Sarah Bethe Nelson one to watch.


Fast-Moving Clouds comes out March 10 on Burger Records.