Friday, November 05, 2021

Challenge Your Perception of Musical Storytelling With ‘A Play At Voices’

Although having moved from the Midwest to LA, Justin Hulsey’s Nashville upbringing shines through in his newest album ‘A Play At Voices’.

Conceptually influenced by the poet Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’ it tells the story of many different characters through the idea of dreaming. An ambitious and multifaceted project that echoes his inspirations from artists such as Radiohead and R.E.M.; conscious of its mature and developed ideas of vulnerability, all the while being conveyed through tonality. The songs feel individual yet tied together thanks to expert craftsmanship with poetic narratives punctuating each story.

Unnerving and prophetic, the first of nine tracks is ‘Violence and Violins’. This is a strong introduction, embracing the ears with a light guitar melody and delicate forest ambiance; easing into his husky tone and opening lyrics. The violins interact with the music so as to create almost a modern day fantasy, a balance between rock and classical meeting in the middle to become something unique. The hook is used to bind the song together, with singing shining through and taking centre stage.

The following piece ‘Suddenly Sunshine’ opens with unsettling synth, and the lyrics:. “Hallelujah when you fall in love / Damn it all when you f*ck it up”

The opening conjures biblical implications. Just as the song opens up, so too does Hulsey, as he demonstrates that he can be vulnerable with his audience and share such intimate and personal feelings. The slow, sombre guitar guides us through. He further goes on to sing: “Permanent moonlight/ Suddenly sunshine is just an idea in my mind”

A tender message from the heart, reflecting the stark disparity between being in love and being alone using light and dark as comparisons. 

The third track ‘Proof’, starts off with a light drumbeat, backed by electric guitar. The song has almost a grungy feel thanks to its bass and memorable hook. Vocals are impactful, as his full range is presented.

‘Are You Okay To Drive’  is fourth on the album, and feels like a certain highlight, continuing to raise the bar and elevating the overall virtuosity. There are blues elements that drive the emotional nature higher, almost cinematic in nature. The opening percussion cements this as a distinctive piece of music that deserves recognition for its production throughout.

Pressing forward with ‘Castle In The Air’, an almost ethereal number. Lyrics although perhaps simple here: “Can I start all over? / Can I be forgiven?”

Will certainly strike a chord with many listeners. He questions whether he is capable of love, and envisions another chance to mend a broken relationship - summoning yet another heartbreaker. 

Moving into the latter half of the album is ‘At The Bound’ry’. Distinctive in style, the electronic jazz introduction is unique and perhaps conveys the personal confusion of the character. A condensed piece of Hulsey’s soul lives within this song as it cries out in pure emotion at its peaks, feeling the most pure in terms of its message.

‘Floral’ is a jarring yet technically challenging piece, standing out for its arrangement and use of reverb. Artistically creative, Hulsey confronts the listener, demanding it be heard and taken into account for its alternative structure.

Overall, more than anything this is an album that is rich with storytelling. It is honest and explorative, while also being heartwarming as well as wrenching at times. An ambitious indie rock comfort that can be found stylistically guiding you through a plethora of stories that cohesively tie together. Hulsey has what it takes to produce something truly thought-provoking.

Gregor Ball


Image: ‘A Play At Voices’ Official Album Cover

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