ALBUM: Not Even Happiness
ARTIST: Julie Byrne
Album release date: January 13, 2017
Julie Byrne’s sophomore album, Not Even Happiness, is a thirty minute dip into calm, warm water. The moment the 26-year-old Buffalo native breathes “Follow my voice,” on the opening track, her clear-eyed, old soul is made manifest, and your shoulders relax with the realization that what you’re ingesting is trustworthy. Themes of vulnerability, travel, death, time, and, mainly, honorable love are Byrne’s lyrical focus; her words unfurl like one long, ever-deepening phrase atop her tumbling guitar playing. She is probing, self-aware, and unhurried: a reassuring guide in a frenzied labyrinth of options. While she doesn’t shrink from the reality of suffering – heartbreak is palpable in this album – she evidently loves life and earnestly wants to understand what full flourishing looks like, and understands that it only happens insfar as one is “in relation.”
Not many people have heard of Bryne. Since moving from Buffalo at the age of eighteen, she’s lived a nomadic life, traveling all over playing music and working odd jobs to make ends meet. Her debut album Rooms With Walls and Windows was released in 2014; it is a humbly- made folk album reflective of Byrne’s 23-year-old musings on life, death, and what occurs in between. Not Even Happiness, coming three years later, shares reasonable continuity with this first release – her lyrics are conversational, poetic, and striking, her guitar playing soft and intricate – but her vision is deepened now, maybe thanks to a deeper surrender to the mysteriousness of the very things she seeks to understand. The tone of Not Even is more ambient and worshipful, and somehow successfully strikes the balance between being reassuring and open-ended.
Byrnes now resides in Queens. She works as a seasonal park ranger in Central Park – “I was starved for that sense of well-being we feel when we’re in green spaces,” she says of the job. When asked about how she’s evolved as a person and musician over the past years since her debut, she replies that she’s made a greater effort to be interiorly free, regardless of external and material ups and downs or any flashes of celebrity. “I’m not free of selfishness, investment in my own side of a story, insecurities that manifest in ways I couldn’t anticipate, impatience, making a habit out of returning to short-lived forms of stimulation or escape. All the markings of a brutal heart. But it seems that being honest about these things is part of our movement away from them…The greatest change has been the internal realization that much of what I turned to for a sense of self could actually never supply it.”
She goes on, unflinchingly delving into the deepest inspiration behind the music: “More than anything, the [music] is a plea for those in pain not to be overtaken by fear. For much of my adult life, in great secrecy, I’ve felt a deep concern that part of me would always feel alone, misinterpreted, or unreachable. That feeling of aloneness was more familiar and constant to me than any romance had ever been, so much that I drew strength from it. The fear we experience, when despite all we try to give in love, we still emerge feeling that we may never truly be seen — this can have a bewildering effect that causes us to act in ways that aren’t true to who we are. In this case, to remain territorial even after the relationship ran its course, to assert our positions and entitlements, to find fault, the refusal to wish someone well when they no longer meet your personal needs. The [music] is an expression of faith in complete, unmotivated responsiveness in love and that our own capacity to love extends so far beyond the boundaries of what we’ve been told and lead to believe.”
This is a rewarding listen that deepens the more time you spend on it. Perfect for ushering the warmer, damper Spring weather with all of its burgeoning possibility.