Review Summary: You are where you've been
There’s something completely organic about Julie Byrne’s approach on Not Even Happiness
. With a voice that powerfully echoes above the strums of her trusty guitar, Byrne’s sophomore effort exudes a sense of complete inner peace. The reflective opening track makes this immediately apparent: the clearly audible sound of her fingers sliding along each note convey the singer’s strongest sentiments. Seeing the world from edge to edge has given Julie Byrne a sense of wisdom and contentment that can’t be faked – and when she gently hums “Follow my voice, I am right here/Beyond this life, beyond all fear” on the serene opener – there’s an unshakeable feeling Byrne knows something we don’t.
And that’s probably because she does. Having spent a good deal of her time in between cities -- and even without a home as a declared nomad -- Not Even Happiness
is an album shaped entirely from personal experience. Julie Byrne has taken in the scenery from various perspectives, for better and for worse. This true-to-life knowledge gives her a lot to reflect on, and she seems completely free within her vivid recollections. “Sleepwalker” confirms the singer’s ability to transform her sincere stories into breezy melodies meshed with strong lyricism: "I'll cross the country and I carry no key/Couldn’t I look up at the stars from anywhere"/And sometimes I did, I felt ancient.” These sort of potent, little revelations are abundant throughout Not Even Happiness
, always backed by Byrne’s carefully-picked guitar. Her playing is intricate but flexible, always adding to the atmosphere of her music without taking away from her pleasant performance. Clearly, the guitar is the instrument of choice here, but several tracks are given a touch up with some gorgeously soft orchestration. “Natural Blue” and “Follow My Voice” are adorned with moving strings sections, whereas “Melting Grid” uses bright flutes to lead into Byrne’s more poetic side. These extra layers add some ambience to the overall package, washing over the listener with a warming touch.
There’s a well known saying that you are what you eat, and Julie Byrne’s latest makes it apparent you’re also very much where you’ve been. Be it the melancholic guitar-picking used to express utter sadness on “Morning Dove”, or the meditative synths that wrap around her intimate croon on “I Live Now as a Singer”, each moment paints a glowing portrait of Byrne’s colorful life experiences on the road. On each and every song, her performance exhibits a natural and believable energy that keeps things alluring even during its quietest moments. It’s that feeling -- like she’s baring her soul with each tender retrospection -- that makes Not Even Happiness
feel like such a forbidden pleasure to the listener. Each time you listen to it, you feel like you’re gaining a little piece of rare knowledge from the singer’s weathered and experienced life. It’s hard to fault an album that makes you feel such a connection, and Byrne’s latest does just that. Whether she’s reminiscing about double rainbows (“Follow Me Home”) or crushing beetles to make dye (“Melting Grid”), it’s an album full of color and life; a stark contrast to the black and white art that accompanies it.