There’s a term used in South Asian singing called tehraav. Hard to translate into English, it essentially means an air of pause when it comes to delivering vocals, but with a certain sense of dignity and respect. Respect for the oscillation between the words and everything around them, each allowed its place in the natural cycle without ever feeling like a competition.
That sense of pause and restraint is what Julie Byrne brings in droves on her new album, Not Even Happiness. It’s exemplified rather nicely in the lead track Natural Blue, which sits its canvas in a pastoral folk setting and surveys the scene rather placidly before adding just the smallest brushstrokes to try achieve the colour of its title.
And with a life like Byrne’s, you’re inclined to believe she’s best informed to know what that exact shade is. This is a record that intertwines with her cross-country nomadic side, of palettes that span vast plains and terrains, that flowers in the narrative arc of songs like Sleepwalker. Byrne is never in any rush to tell her tales, but the way she starts spinning them is so beguiling from the beginning that you never really want them to end.
That’s where the magic of Melting Grid (“our conversation it banks in me”) and her rich tone on Morning Dove really comes alive. It soon gives way to the stunning crown jewel at the very end, Sea As It Glides, which coos so gently that it feels like guiding a sole feather along a sunlit beach. That’s the sort of fragile energy Byrne manages to capture on this record, and it shouldn’t be welcomed with anything less than pure rapture.