Review Summary: Languid and bittersweet
Whether or not you like her work, you have to give Julie Byrne props for continually expanding her musical range. What started out as a traditional indie folk sound has slowly dilated into a more atmospheric, sweeping style dominated by ambient and chamber folk influences. Just listen to Byrne’s newest solo outing The Greater Wings
for reference: the singer-songwriter brought in a whole host of experimental musicians to flesh out her sonic palette, leading to a record that's equal parts hypnotic and otherworldly. Time and time again, Byrne has proven that she knows how to play to her strengths, as well as building upon them in a meaningful way.
So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that this little EP, Julie Byrne with Laugh Cry Laugh
, largely continues in the same vein. But, as you might infer from the title, the record sees Byrne collaborating with musicians Emily Fontana and Taryn Blake Miller as part of the newly formed trio Laugh Cry Laugh. And while their inner-band chemistry isn’t fully established yet, this bite-sized collection holds a lot of promise for future outings. “‘22” opens the proceedings nicely, easing us in with a wealth of sprawling synths and meditative vocals; Miller’s keys give the song a hymnal vibe, as Byrne lets out some lovely harmonies over them. The only real complaint here is that the track clocks in at two minutes, coming off as somewhat unfinished. A song so enveloping and atmospheric could have stood to linger in its calming ambience for another minute or two… ah well, I suppose we can just call it an extended intro.
In any case, “‘22” sets the stage well for the rest of Julie Byrne with Laugh Cry Laugh
. Of all the songs found on the EP, the most “traditional” fare comes in the form of the cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days.” Delicate fingerpicking and a stripped-down folk arrangement are the order of the day here, as Byrne offers a more spare, minimalist take on a song that – let’s be honest here – has already been covered to death. Having the song near the middle of the tracklist is also a smart move, as the tune provides a nice respite from the experimental nature of the other tracks. Speaking of which, the remaining two songs – “Velocity! What About the Inertia!?” and “Entropy Increasing” – are much
more sonically rich, and likely the most collaborative efforts on the record. The former is a languid dream pop tune with beautiful echo-swathed guitar leads, while the latter is an interesting exercise in throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks – elegant harp sections, quirky keyboard melodies… all that good stuff.
Still, Julie Byrne with Laugh Cry Laugh
serves more as a launchpad than anything else. Think of it as this trio’s version of the self-titled Boygenius EP: you know there are the makings of something special in there, but some kinks need to be worked out first. In this case, I’d say the biggest flaw is a general lack of focus. Sure, it’s cool that Byrne is experimenting with her established sound so much, but there’s not a lot of connective tissue holding these four songs together. And at only 11 minutes, Julie Byrne with Laugh Cry Laugh
basically serves as a scatterbrained appetizer for something greater down the line. Still, I can’t argue with the quality of these cuts on a more individual basis – especially in regards to “These Days” and “Velocity…”. Hopefully Byrne and co can take the best aspects of this EP and fashion them into something more cohesive and flowing. Until then… well, we’ve still got a pretty nice little collection of songs here.