Album Review of Not Even Happiness by Julie Byrne.
Release Date: Jan 27, 2017
Record label: Ba Da Bing Records
You could be forgiven for coming into the year unaware of Julie Byrne. While her 2014 debut album Rooms with Windows and Walls found an enraptured audience, it didn't receive the fanfare the converted felt it deserved. In hindsight, however, it's only fair: enter, Not Even Happiness. Rarely, a seemingly pleasant artist doing pleasant things suddenly shoots into the stratosphere; whether it's potential being realized, moments coinciding in brilliant unison, it's hard to tell, but an undeniable result remains the same: you won't be forgiven – or likely, able – to leave the year still unaware.
The songs on New York songwriter Julie Byrne's second album, Not Even Happiness, feel intensely familiar, but never tritely so; like a favourite sweater, they feel warm and lived-in, made for anyone but a perfect fit for you, particularly. Byrne's dusty, Americana-tinged songs are built from simple ingredients — voice and acoustic guitar, almost exclusively — but are saved from banality by a subtle, pervasive ambience that lends them a sense of intimacy. The lack of percussion throughout might have made a lesser songwriter's work feel lethargic, but Not Even Happiness feels all the more gently human for it.
Julie Byrne’s 2014 debut had a tiny release but spread far afield through word-of-mouth: here, among a sea of folk sirens, was someone really worth tuning in to. A self-taught fingerpicker, this peripatetic American has a voice of rare elegance, pitched low and misty, and plenty of gentle significance to relay. On her second album, it glides across landscapes both external (Sea As It Glides) and internal (All the Land Glimmered), picking out detail others might not perceive.
Julie Byrne’s debut, ‘Rooms With Walls And Windows’, was inspired by her time living in a Chicago apartment with no mobile phone or landline. But Julie has spent the better part of the last few years living a nomadic lifestyle, calling everywhere from Chicago and Pittsburgh to Buffalo and New Orleans home. As she puts it herself on ‘Sleepwalker,’ “I crossed the country and carried no key.” It’s unsurprising then that her travels have shaped the sound of second album ‘Not Even Happiness.’ It’s a record wrapped in tenderness, gentle acoustic guitar and Julie’s comfortingly warm voice forming its foundations.
Julie Byrne might not make for the most reliable tenant – her restless side has seen her move home countless times in recent years (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans … you get the picture). But life on the move has made for interesting music, in which double rainbows (Follow My Voice), breaking dawns (Natural Blue) and even the dye made from crushed beetles (Melting Grid) serve as lyrical inspiration. This second album might not hang together were it not for the fact Byrne herself appears immersed within the worlds she sings about – there’s something pleasingly organic about the way she almost seems to exhale the melodies.
When it's only January but you're already convinced you're listening to one of the finest albums of the year, then it's highly possible you've heard something very special indeed. Step forward US folk singer Julie Byrne, whose second album is a delicate masterpiece, one that takes traditional Americana and imbues it with a soft sensuality, using lush melodies and evocative lyricism to conjure up a roving, lovelorn narrative that it's impossible not to be spellbound by. Like Vashti Bunyan before her - an otherworldly singer-songwriter who travelled around in a horse-drawn gypsy caravan - Byrne's backstory paints her as something of a nomad.
Released back in 2014 on DIY label Orindal, Julie Byrne’s debut was an intimate affair. Equal parts Cat Power to Grouper via Julia Holter, the album’s delicate psych-folk delighted many and, despite her refusal to engage with social media, Rooms With Walls And Windows ended up “going viral”. Two years on, Byrne has relocated to new Yorkshire-based label Basin Rock and the plaudits she received during her travels around the world have brought her out of herself.
"I've been called a heartbreaker, for doing justice to my own." On her second album, Byrne expands her palette and enriches her singular methodology. The setting is all at once familiar and then, in an instant, anything but. Here is folk music reimagined. Tenderly, expertly picked guitar supports the voice: Byrne doesn't so much sing as exhale and her unforced delivery serves to mesmerise.
A new year brings with it a mixed bag of feelings that includes transition, uncertainty, expectation and hope. Such emotions are lovingly and opportunely captured on Julie Byrne’s second album, Not Even Happiness. In his eulogy to Carrie Fisher, Rufus Wainwright mirrored a similar state of mind, “These musings, romantic and sentimental, must also soon abruptly come to a screeching halt.
A transient singer/songwriter who was raised in Buffalo, New York, Julie Byrne returned not only to her hometown but to the house where she grew up to record Not Even Happiness, her Ba Da Bing Records debut. Not new to recording, her prior work includes additional vocals for Jordan Lee's more expansive but similarly pastoral Mutual Benefit, as well as cassettes of her own material. Here, she reestablishes what has been her trademark: delicate, dreamy folk governed by a quiet melancholia.
Independence can be a freeing and empowering experience that enhances our quality of life. But it can also provide a disconnect, and when we indulge upon it too much we begin to lose sight of how it also affects our surroundings. Julie Byrne has applied this principle in a caring and thoughtful way, as it’s a concern that repeatedly comes to the fore in her succinct body of work.
Following 2014's debut Rooms With Walls and Windows, Julie Byrne's second full-length album Not Even Happiness stays true to it predecessor's understated style, but builds on its bare-bones orchestration with a sound that's tied to the sea. In a press release, she recalls naming the album: "It was the first warm afternoon of the year. I walked alongside the Atlantic as the Earth came alive for the sun.
Julie Byrne — Not Even Happiness (BaDaBing/Grapefruit)Julie Byrne’s voice is so close it tickles your neck. You can almost feel the warmth of breath as these soft, murmuring notes nuzzle your ears. Though pure, even piercing at times, in tone, her voice has a natural, nearly conversational quality. She sounds a lot like Sharon van Etten, exploring a fine line between grounded folk and otherworldly shiver.