February 19, 2014

LP: Julie Byrne - Rooms With Walls and Windows

Julie Byrne tells the unknown stories of the open road. 

This winter hasn't been an easy one. It seems like every day there's another snowstorm or temperatures are dipping below freezing. My hatred for this shitty weather grows every time I step out into cold Manhattan or slide on a block of ice on my way to work. But recently, I spent a day at home and watched the snow fall over my backyard. I wrapped myself in a blanket and listened to Julie Byrne's most recent effort, Rooms With Walls and Windows, in full and felt peaceful for the first time in awhile. Maybe it was because I wasn't being forced to endure the weather outside, but I think it mostly had to do with the warm, honey-like beauty of Byrne's new album, which was released on Orindal Records at the end of January.

The first time I heard Julie Byrne was this time last year when I reviewed her EP Faster or Greener Than Now. I listened to the two melancholic yet hopeful songs, "Holiday" and "Marmalade" (which are both on her new album as well), while traveling from Philadelphia to Las Vegas. I ruminated on the stories Byrne told in her music while flying over the mountains and valleys that occupy different states. It might be because of this, or because of Byrne's lack of connection to one specific city (she is described as being from Seattle-via-Chicago-via-Buffalo), that makes me feel as if her music is best listened to while exploring the open road (or in my case, open sky). There are clues within Byrne's music that she might believe this as well. In the finger-plucking opening track, "Wisdom Teeth Song", she mentions escaping to Mexico City and the thoughts that cross her mind as she visits the Museum of Natural History. Byrne's songs create a sonic map of places she's both lived and left, or hopes to be one day. She describes the life she could have had with a lover in New York in "Holiday" and the literal house she yearns for in "Marmalade." But the moments of loss in her ongoing narrative don't drag down the songs – instead they pair perfectly with Byrne's minimal instrumentals and deep, humming voice. The songs are typically just Byrne and her guitar, but there's a certain richness and crackling ambiance to her music that's often missing with higher quality recordings. Tracks like "Prism Song" and "Vertical Ray" show off this skill while burrowing their way into your ears and staying there throughout the cold. Even though it's starting to get warmer, I'll still turn to Rooms With Walls and Windows for some solace from the harsh realities of everyday life. 

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Purchase Rooms With Walls and Windows from Orindal Records.

Written by Emily Thompson