Published Jan 25, 2017The 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. Sans the stiff pitter-patter of drums, songs like "Sleepwalker" and "Morning Dove" lilt and tumble, part Elliott Smith, part Joni Mitchell.
Byrne's at her best, though, when she pulls back the tempo and embraces soft, droning atmosphere. Mid-album highlight "Natural Blue" is an achingly beautiful song that stretches the title's words into a full chorus, and by following it up with the wordless "Interlude," she offers listeners both the chance to contemplate what they've just heard and a break before the album's second side begins. Her piece de resistance is closer "I Live Now As a Singer," an elegiac, Enya-esque ballad on which Byrne fully commits to the all-encompassing warmth of synthesized organ.
Not Even Happiness is a triumph of subtlety, proof that music doesn't have to be forceful to be powerful. (Ba Da Bing!)