Apr 15, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Australian singer/songwriter Harmony Byrne, like many other artists, found herself at her most open in deep isolation. The seclusion of the past year offered the chance for Byrne to release her innermost fears and pains long kept buried. Often, these innermost moments of release never are seen or heard, created only for the catharsis of simply letting them into the open. Harmony Byrne’s latest EP is the rare exception. Amidst the release of Byrne’s full-length 2020 debut, Heavy Doors, she decamped to her studio in the Australian bush and self-recorded a series of roughshod acoustic demos. While these demos were initially not intended to see a wide release, she released the stripped-back recordings as her latest EP, The Songs I Sing When No One Is Listening.
The presentation of these tracks is undeniably simple, with Byrne’s only accompaniment her own guitar. Yet, Byrne leverages the stark recording and bare instrumentation to enrapture her listeners, having them hang on every gently whispered syllable and ethereal melody. Her performances are raw and bare, occasionally sounding cracked and choked as if she is holding back a flood of tears. On “Sparrow,” Byrne is barely able to choke out the lyrics as she whispers, “Oh, breathe in/Oh, breathe in/Like the first time,” recalling both the intimate beauties and heart-rending hardships of love. There’s an almost voyeuristic intensity to hearing Byrne in such an unadorned setting, but that same electric allure captivates throughout the EP’s runtime.
As much as the EP’s sound is defined by isolation, the raging pandemic that spurred its creation looms equally large. While the topic never explicitly arises, it’s not hard to project your own trials onto Byrne’s stories. She sings early in “Daisy Chains,” “There wasn’t a day left to save/So go ahead and cry it’s what you need/This year has been a lot to take.” That stirring sense of empathy runs deep through the record, with Byrne offering a gentle comfort for the darkest of moments on “The Good Days & The Bad Days”— “Baby let me be your good days/Let me be there when they’re bad/Let my love be your happiness/Let the world just slip right out of your hands.” However, the traumas Byrne dives into are as personal as they are universal. Byrne’s searing confessions dig into old wounds, examining heartbreak and lost innocence on “Daisy Chains” and addiction and tragedy on “The Good Days & The Bad Days.”
With the closing track, Byrne delivers a poignant rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” a longtime live staple that Byrne holds dear to her heart. Though these songs may not have been intended for a wider audience, few can deny the poignant sincerity behind The Songs I Sing When No One Is Listening. While the bare-bones recording and stripped-back instrumentation may leave the songs rather understated, it also invites a sense of refreshing authenticity and potent emotive power. Though the runtime is short, there is a rich depth of feeling to these tracks, the extent of which perhaps only Byrne herself knows. But she nonetheless invites the listener to dig deeper and discover new meaning for themselves. (www.harmonybyrne.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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