words by ross jones
photograph by jonathan bouknight
Julie Byrne is one of life’s adventurers. Whether her often constant travelling around North America’s many miles and contrasting environments are forced or completely purposeful, her innate ability to register such journeys and natural experiences within a creative form makes for such uncompromising listening – evidence of her vivacity for such longing pursuits and the moving effect it has on her own existence. Her first full-length, the beautiful incandescence of ‘Rooms Within Walls And Windows‘, captured a place in time that was unhurried by the sands, almost as if everything outside the room from which Byrne recorded stopped for such contemplative notions of timeless exhibition. It also displayed an artist finding their process in life within the bubble that existence surrounds us in – an intended marriage of loved ones, photographs, memories – with the hushed merit of an instinctual voice that was piecing together a puzzle but never ready to place the final piece, and in doing so having to weigh up such decisions as her wonderfully natural music played out on instinctive repeat.
‘Not Even Happiness‘, the current New York native’s sophomore full-length, embraces such passages with such implausible fascination. An album that is full of unquestionably rich impressions and tender benevolence, it not only immediately demonstrates Julie Byrne’s development in strength and conviction as a songwriter but also as a human being who can inspire others. The record is built on an opulent sway of maternally-spirited guitar-picking and a voice so full of sentiment and intuition that before even delving within Byrne’s notes and experiences you are moved, an ability that has evidently become more assured and voluntary in the years standing between each release. “Sleepwalker” flickers as a glowing candle, burning into the night sky whilst driving amongst a rural road from one town to the next – the undeniable solace and isolation always finding some untenable balance as chords beam with more character than a thousand voices that Byrne crosses along the way.
Produced in such a way to not push to a level of saccharine but bring vibrant clarity to the passion within, her voice trembles through “Melting Grid” as if silencing each town she ponders over – the weight of sentiment echoing through the recording like a tangible presence guarding over not only Byrne but us all. It all overwhelmingly congeals into an instrument of essence and identity, an important a element as any as she delves into the most vulnerable aspects of her self, and the wholesome environment that would fortuitously inform the way in which she illustrates.
An artist of surroundings, atmospheres and elements – ‘Not Even Happiness’ is defined by the roads, towns and sights of which Byrne travelled. What’s so powerful is the way in which she so deftly engages in her documentation – informed as such, the following effects that are conjured are not unharmonious, but part and parcel – as such, utterly touching.
Byrne can trace a moment, and will define that time by pouring out the exact emotion felt, perhaps the source for noting such a memory in the first place. “Natural Blue“, with its tranquil fields of sky against sea, water against sand, fields against horizons, is uncompromising because of Byrne’s finality in personal circumstance, creating such a poignant case of highs and lows. It couldn’t be more prominent and definitive in closing statement “I Live Now As A Singer“, the mournful atmospherics of static synthesisers jarring amongst the guitar that’s prominent for the rest of the record, but ultimately vital at this closing stage in cementing the definitive affirmation of what must be given up to live such life of self-exploration.
‘Not Even Happiness’ is a stunning record of complex personal study, one that not only understands but isn’t afraid to, in the end, show life’s losses amongst finding true happiness. Julie Byrne has grown exponentially, and gifted us with a record that not only defines herself, but also those that are willing to listen.
‘Not Even Happiness’ is released on January 27th.
1/27 – Brooklyn; Rough Trade NYC (Album release show)
2/25 – Philadelphia; PhilaMOCA (with Vagabon)