Chicago-based singer/songwriter Julie Byrne brings to us her full-length debut Rooms With Walls And Windows, an album cementing the talent first exhibited on her Faster Or Greener Than Now seven-inch. Byrne has a remarkable voice, one that is completely unique. Her songs have a pastoral charm, but also resonate with something that could be argued as experimental. It’s the same line that defined Nick Drake’s catalog. Byrne isn’t Drake, but they both manage to craft organic, earthy tones that still incorporate a modern storytelling vibe.
Rooms With Walls And Windows is a Orindal Records release, the label started by Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Advance Base mastermind Owen Ashworth. Ashworth has a knack for storytelling, something he also senses in Byrne. No matter how simple the lyrics are, Byrne’s delivery gives them a fragile ache that is universally relatable. She sings like a bittersweet memory. Byrne’s work isn’t downtrodden, nor does it step into the pretentious world of melancholy. Instead, the words and music are driven by an honesty, the kind of bare bones honesty few artists can ever manage.
The album opens with the random plucks of a guitar, and Byrne’s vocals dancing behind them. When “Wisdom Teeth” begins, Byrne’s voice remains behind the guitar. The blend is splendid, allowing a choice between listening to the lyrics, or being carried off by the music. “Attached To Us Like A Butcher Wrap” pushes Byrne’s vocals to the front, allowing her somber timbre, mixed with a cadence that has a slight swing, to tell a quiet relationship story. When she sings “How long can my body be loyal/Because I listened To All Of Your Decisions”, it’s neither condemning or self-pitying, Byrne is above that. She’s telling a story, and being very direct about it.
“Holiday” is one of the showstoppers on the album. Byrne’s guitar is slightly more excited, but her voice more ethereal and deliberate. The juxtaposition is beautiful. “Marmalade”, while built on a more traditional folk inspiration, is a stunning number. “Vertical Ray” has a haunted melody, another song where Byrne’s vocals remain just behind the guitar. “Keep On Raging” is sung in hushed tones, softly, like a lullaby.
Byrne is not only a fascinating songwriter, she also never allows the songs to slip into repetition. The building blocks of vocals and acoustic guitar may be consistent, but each tune is distinctive. Byrne’s creates tiny worlds on this album, and each world is an individual. Even the two instrumental tracks, “Piano Music” and “Piano Music For Lucy” are inimitable. Byrne might have roots in the style of another era, but what she’s doing on Rooms is transforming that style into something deeply her own.
Julie Byrne is a talent not to be missed, and Rooms With Walls And Windows is an album that demands your undivided attention.