Exploring “Foos”, “City & Colour”, Byrne with Ruminations on Goodbye

In the realm of music, it’s amazing how much insecurity appeals as much as confidence. Ordinarily, feeling and feeding your own uncertainly is recipe for some form of disaster. But put that out in beautiful, contemplative, expressive lyrics that make you FEEL things late at night when your thoughts get long, and well… then you’ve really got something.

Not that confidence doesn’t work brilliantly in its own success. I think of the sneer of rock and roll strut, the assertion of funk, the certainty of if in alternative, saying what you want to say. Prince is The Purple One for a reason, after all. The Rolling Stones are The Stones because they rock that hard (feel free to insert The Beatles there too/instead, which I’m obligated to say having grown up in a Beatles-listening house).

But, as they say, I digress.

Grief is also extremely powerful in music in this year 2023. The latest splendid works from the Foo Fighters, City & Colour, and Julie Byrne handle this in ways that are hard to imagine. Hard in my opinion because its not only the act of confronting great pain, but doing it in a public way that leaves so much vulnerable.

That takes great strength. But Here We Are finds the Foos suddenly losing long-time drummer Taylor Hawkins. City & Colour’s Dallas Green was left reeling by several close losses and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his latest release The Love Still Held Me Near. Byrne meanwhile lost her longtime producer and close friend, a theme that shades her upcoming release The Greater Wings.

The Foo Fighters, as you might expect, achieve catharsis here via hard rock guitars backing lyrics that reach out for Hawkins still hoping to find him there. Songs like “Rescued”, “Hearing Voices”, “Rest” and “The Glass” wrench as hard as Dallas Green’s The Love Still Held Me Near opening track “Meant to Be”, which questions religion, death and everything in between.

There’s a lot of nuance to grief.

I’ve already spoken of my praise for Byrne’s work here, but I wanted to add the Foos and City and Colour to the equation as well. Not just because they’re the bands they are, but because they dared to present the realities of hurting and grief and pain on their new material. And their new material is worth sharing in as an experience.

Byrne’s “Summer Glass” a Brilliant Prism of Early Summer

Julie Byrne has once again exposed the underlying tension of a shiny exterior on her new song “Summer Glass”. What lies on the surface may seem a gentle still water, but beneath is a gorgeous simmering tension. How we can smile with a shine that doesn’t quite extend to the eyes which feel the harsh wisdom of experience and trauma.

Strings and synthesizers dance amid Byrne’s haunting, ethereal assertiveness all through this song. The words, melody, the video itself which is a beautiful haze of swaying beauty. Byrne’s looks are a vision here, and she and her director were marvelous all through this creative statement. 

And I could compare it to something, as every reviewer does ad nauseam from not until the end of time. But this song makes me instead pensive, free of making similarities. Like so much when art is a successful, beautiful, functional diamond, you let it stand on its own and that’s more than enough for gifting the world with songs like “Summer Glass”. 

We the listeners benefit, let us never ruin that. Take a listen below, and try not to get a shiver during the way Byrne delivers the line “you were the family that I chose”. That line hits harder than a heartbreak. 

Its the final countdown…

…. for 2017! Apologies for the shameless reference to the band Europe, but with the calendar winding its way quickly towards 2018 now it is once again time to bring you my end of the year album list.

And for this year it might just be the most special yet! The selections are only the top five this year instead of ten, but the tradeoff is worth it given that this time I was able to do it on the radio.

Thanks to morning show host Lee Rayburn on my station WHCU we have planned five installments whereby I count down my top albums of the year, while he counts his down as well. To date, this may be one of the best segments I’ve ever had the pleasure of being able to do on the radio, and I hope all of you out there enjoy these as much as I do.

For the #5 slot on the list, we lead off with Buffalo NY’s own Julie Byrne and her latest LP Not Even Happiness, and The War on Drugs with A Deeper Understanding. For more, listen below….

My extended comments on the record…

Like a hollow voice emerging from a lost and restless wilderness, Julie Byrne’s “Not Even Happiness” is a subtle rap of lightning to the senses. It awakens from a gently sliding dream in “Follow My Voice”, trembles with an elegant folk purity that would make Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold jealous on “Natural Blue”, and lifts off to the heavens on the wings of church-like synths and gently traced strings for the finisher on “I Live Now as a Singer”.

Byrne has developed a lot in just a few years, amping up the strengths of her guitar work, sweeping vocals, and beautifully human songwriting with new elements of sound and exploration. Faint passes of instrumentation like harp and flute add even further interest to an increasingly nuanced tapestry on “Happiness”, and just listening to those shifts in tone makes the record a new reward with every journey through.

“Life is short as a breath half-taken”, Byrne sings here, and she makes sure that every moment put out on this record is another well-spent within the art of song.

Tomorrow, we introduce #4!

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