Photo Credit: Photo Finish Records
By: Sophie Mirzaian
Imagine a man with blue eyes and an awkward, almost feminine voice. When that man begins to sing the music that he wrote himself, his voice suddenly becomes even higher, and on your first listen (or on my first listen, anyway) you swear you just heard a girl with a raspy voice. Whether it was a girl or a guy, you no longer care; you suddenly become transfixed. You think, “this music is incredible.”
After you research a bit about the artist and his fan base, you realize he is a man—a wonderful man named Anthony Green—who has the ability to make straight men swoon over him like twelve-year-old girls drooling over Justin Bieber.
After many recent significant changes in his life, Green released his second solo album “Beautiful Things” last month. Although his first solo album, “Avalon,” received generally negative reviews, his most famous band, Circa Survive, has put out some of the best indie/experimental albums to date—”Juturna” (my favorite of all Green’s work), “On Letting Go,” and “Blue Sky Noise”—and I honestly prefer them to any solo work he’s done. Still, I don’t want to discourage people from listening to “Beautiful Things.”
Many genres are mixed into the songs of this album, further proving Green’s versatility, but at this point, it doesn’t feel like he’s picking what would be best for the tracks. The genres feel like they’re being chosen almost at random, all only consistent with the fact that they allow room for a little bit of bare-bones, acoustic-type recording without the elements so common in the music that his fans know and love him for.
This album is like Green’s diary. He uses music now more than ever for sharing what is most personal to him and for talking about recent life events: marriage, the birth of his son James, his independence from medication, all the “beautiful things” in his life.
Upon pressing play, you are struck with a sort of suppressed screaming, but it’s a musical yell that immediately captures your interest and attention. Soon after, guitar and drums come in to start “If I Don’t Sing.” It’s a simple song lyrically to open up the album, and it works. Also quite impressive, Green wrote the entire song throughout one five-mile bike ride to practice during the time Circa Survive was recording “Blue Sky Noise.”
The second track, “Do It Right,” features Green and the members of Good Old War, good friends of Green and fellow musicians, making things up on the spot while drunk in the house where they were recording some of “Beautiful Things.”
Someone decided to turn on a few microphones about twenty minutes into their mock show, and then things became serious. The message of the song they created is to “make sure everybody you love in your life knows it.” There’s no other way to record a song this honest, not only in its lyrics, but in its emotion other than doing it candidly. In other words, although at first listen it may seem like a mediocre recording, this song is truly special.
“When I’m On Pills” was written when Green was, well, on pills. He felt the only time he could do anything was when he took medication. Around the time he wrote the song, he and his wife were constantly fighting. Somehow I find this song to be reminiscent of “Mandala,” (a Circa Survive song from “On Letting Go”), at least in its tempo and beginning and its hint of that dub vibe, although the dub style is much more prevalent and deliberate in “When I’m On Pills.” However, the original acoustic version of this song was much harsher on the ears and very different. I definitely prefer this album version.
As for “James’ Song” and “Love You No Matter What,” I feel guilty for criticizing cute songs written for babies, but I can’t say I liked either one. I understand he wrote them for his son, but I felt like a sleepy baby myself when listening to them.
Writing lyrics have always been Green’s strong point, but this time around, they’re simple—which isn’t necessarily bad—but listeners are sort of left yearning for more. Where are the calcium waste metaphors? I’m not sure I want to hear about how he’ll love his kid “no matter what,” even if he’s “fat or [he’s] small, really short or so tall.”
After “James’ Song” comes something completely different. In “Blood Song,” the usually subtle bluegrass influence is much too apparent, as in we don’t want it there in the first place, and when we notice it, it feels artificial. When I started listening, for a second I doubted I was still hearing a song from the same album by the same person. Still, the concept is interesting; Green wrote it after watching “There Will Be Blood” for the fifth time, and the song was entirely inspired by the film. There seem to be many songs on this album with good intentions but poor executions. “Blood Song” is another one I’ll have to toss into that category.
At this point, I found myself waiting for the album to finish so I could go listen to “Juturna.” I missed the way his voice sounds characteristically, his completely unique singing which and the overall style of Circa that drive fans crazy. This acoustic/singer-songwriter “suit” he’s wearing doesn’t fit properly. I miss angsty Anthony.
But there was one more song: “Lullaby.” Originally a Good Old War song, Green covered it for his album. His friends wrote it for his wedding, and it makes for a cute but slightly sleep-inducing ending to the album. I know beautiful singer-songwriter music, and this doesn’t even come close.
What Anthony Green failed to deliver here is something that Circa Survive’s albums never lack (although his other solo album “Avalon” had the same problem but not to the extent of this one): the ability to manipulate emotions. You feel this wonderful sensation of being pulled in a million different directions as Green’s pitch rises and falls in Circa albums, but that doesn’t happen at all in “Beautiful Things.” Some songs are pretty adorable, but at the same time, I think four-year-olds would enjoy them more than most young adults. I guess maybe that’s the point.
Although I can’t speak for all fans (I’m sure there are some whose new favorite album of Green is “Beautiful Things”) but I think a good deal are disappointed with this (hopefully temporary) directional change. It’s not that he got lazy, he dared to tried something different, and it just didn’t work out.
This album is made for those long-time fans who care about Anthony Green as a person, his life and his wife and his kid. I suggest you listen to any one of Circa Survive’s albums if you’ve never heard his music before and want to hear something incredible.