Photo credit: Jonathan Bouknight
Julie Byrne’s latest album is actually already over a year old. It came out on January 4th, making it the first new music of the year that I heard, and it clearly stuck with me. Not Even Happiness marks a personal journey in Byrne’s life, though not necessarily based in specific events; instead, the album is a series of highly personal proclamations of love and faith, reckoning with the life she’s come to lead.
I lived my life alone before you
And with those that I’d never succeeded to love
And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude
I fought you, I did not know how to give it up
Byrne has lived all across the country and recently settled (for now) in New York, but she hates it. On “Follow My Voice,” she literally calls it hell, saying she is meant to live among nature, not in the epitome of a concrete jungle. While studying environmental sciences, she managed to land a job as a seasonal ranger in the city’s only real green space, Central Park, reconciling her need for the pastoral among a city that never sleeps.
Her new album is rooted in a way contradictory to her nomadic lifestyle. Yes, she still tours and it takes a toll, detailed with melancholy spirit on “Natural Blue,” but Byrne has a greater comfort in her skin than ever before. She is both emotionally vulnerable and available, which surprises her, given her stubborn appeal in “Sleepwalker.” All of this reflects throughout Not Even Happiness in the purest of plucked melodies on her guitar, accompanied by seldom strings or background vocals. That said, the quiet whispers that opened the record follow us for its duration, keeping Byrne’s place within us as stable as she’s come to find her own reality.