Joshua Burnside - Euphrata

by Larry Schiffman Rating:8 Release Date:2017-05-05

A bit of “secret” behind the scenes minutia. I received biographical and promotional material with the download of  “Euphata” regarding the album and the artist, Joshua Burnside. I am told the lyrics are “at times deeply personal and intimate”, often with an “apocalyptic theme” “with a diverse range of themes, from PTSD and technophobia, to larger questions about time, love and death in the modern age.” I blew out my hearing in the sixties attending high decibel concerts, so I thought my problem understanding all the lyrics in the very first song “Blood Drive” was medical rather than musical. The issue persisted in the next cut, “Tunnels pt.2”. At this point I was annoyed that an album, intended to be appreciated for its message, was so difficult to understand. Yet, the music is very appealing and emotionally satisfying. By song 6 it is apparent that Mr. Burnside can be rendered in the studio by his producer with vocal clarity. At this moment my epiphany occurred when a background voice on the cut says “We'll let that sort of settle on your brain.” Well of course, when the message is the music the lyrics are only part of the equation. It is not essential to understand every word, the ideas can be transmitted far more subtly.

The title of the album refers to Euphrata Pennsylvania which Burnside visited on a tour of the U.S.A. and where he was was greeted on his first night by a fire that burned down a nearby market. This event unsurprisingly led to or exacerbated unpleasant dreams that Inspired the title cut. Burnside's anxiety about what he has seen and experienced (he several times utters “F**K the world”) has created not only a doom-laden view of life, but also a PTSD that (according to those “liner” notes) was triggered by a donation during a “Blood Drive”. Only a true artist can convert the feeling that the world could be ending into something as therapeutic as a song. The lyrics very clearly make his apprehensiveness known, yet the acoustic and soothing arrangement sends a very contrasting message. I hesitate to call this a “technique” because that sounds manipulative. It seems instead to be much more the very basis of how Burnside, I suspect unconsciously, chooses to make his music. By taking familiar comfortable traditional folk sounds, rhythms, he artfully twists them into powerful and unexpected messages. Listening to the album as background music will be pleasant, but careful attention provides much greater pleasure.

Burnside mixes his Irish Folk Sound with African and Columbian influences borrowed from the time he spent in South America with his cousin while refreshing his inspirations, playing with a local group, and writing the songs for this album. The effects are readily apparent on the songs “26th Street” and “Fightforfight” (where he is joined by Hozier cellist and backing vocalist Alana Henderson).

Burnside is not reluctant to share his feelings and experiences. The song “holllllogram” talks the pain and difficulty of maintaining a long distance relationship and having to rely on social media. He beautifully encapsulates those feelings in his exquisite lyrics: “All you see is a pale reflection of them, none of the details, like the sunlight reflecting on the moon and then again on to a rippling ocean, your vision of them is completely distorted.”

The closest Burnside comes to being a rocker is on “Tunnels Pt. 2”. Don't expect to get up and dance. The throbbing electric feedback, pulsating synthesizer, and drums that introduce the song, the barely understandable lyrics (something about “something we've never seen before”) give way, about 2/3rds of the way through, to a near musical standstill. Regardless, the cut maintains a high degree of emotional impact.

Burnside plays most of the instruments on the album and is ably assisted by his brother on drums and percussion, as well as friends on violin, synths, bass, and trumpet . . . all of whom he has collaborated with in their solo projects over the past few years. He has achieved a degree of fame on you tube and Spotify and hopes that Euphrata, his first full solo album, will expand his audience. It is an introspective effort that becomes more appealing with each listening. It is good to know that there is still plenty of room and for an artists like Burnside to stylistically expand his folk, Irish, and traditional roots. Ironically, his dour view of the world, which may have existed long before recent political events, is now very timely. It is an artist's job to comment on what he sees and express what he feels. I hope the future allows Burnside and me to be more optimistic.

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