Harper Blynn - Busy Hands
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: April 16, 2012
There's no easy way to go about making a second album without avoiding the inevitable thundercloud that is the sophomore slump. While there are plenty of success stories of those that have, more often than not, bands (and artists) fall, and fall mightily. Which is why Busy Hands, the sophomore record from Brooklyn, New York's Harper Blynn, is so darn refreshing. As far as follow-up albums go, they can't get much better than this.
The 13-song effort was recorded in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York with John O'Mahony and comes two years removed from the release of a shimmering self-titled EP. From front to back, Busy Hands most closely resembles said EP and actually feels quite distant from Loneliest Generation, the band's widely acclaimed debut. Normally this kind of thing would make for tremendous disappointment, but that is far from accurate here. Busy Hands opens with the vernal and inspiring "In Another Life," a rousing and triumphant song about hope, renewal and conviction. These three themes return quite a bit throughout Busy Hands, most notably on the gorgeous Paul Simon-esque "I've Got Time," but more on that later. Harper Blynn, like a modern day Simon and Garfunkel, have crafted a career out of letting each of the primary songwriters sing. So while "In Another Life," was Jason Blynn's opening salvo, the urgent and punchy "I Think I'm Falling in Love," is Peter Harper's introductory statement, and keeps things moving forward most impressively.
"Lovely Thing," finds Blynn starting off forlorn and tender before diving into a bursting chorus, whereas the dark and shimmering "Knife," makes its claim as the album's first real home run. The 3-minute pop song "Sucker," is not necessarily filler and not necessarily worth skipping over, but at this point on the album it doesn't really hold a candle to any of its predecessors. The disc's first half ends with the near-perfect "Come Home To Me," a simple, straightforward and elegant lament on love. It is also at this point that one can notice a common theme. Whereas Loneliest Generation was about growing up and maturing, Busy Hands feels much more like a relationship record. While Blynn tackles the themes of hope, renewal and conviction, it is not a stretch to say, those themes were spawned from the rise and fall of romance.
And so it is that the disc's second half opens with the title track, a rustling and sanguine meditation on unrequited love. For all its charming moments, "Busy Hands, Empty Hearts," is most assuredly a downtrodden song, so it only feels right that the band springs forward on the florid and summery "Marigold," a spright and lithe foray into folk-pop. And then, almost unexpectedly, Harper Blynn offers up "I've Got Time," one of, if not, its strongest statement to date. A 3-minute rumination on wisdom, it is arguably one of 2012's strongest tracks and the very proof that when it comes to first-rate musicianship, Harper Blynn are at the top of the heap.
Naturally, the remaining four tracks cannot come close to the brilliance of "I've Got Time," but hot damn if the band doesn't put their best foot forward. "Summer in Exile," feels a lot like "In Another Life," and "Come Home to Me," why the acoustic "High End Melody," is the band's first bare-bones effort to date. While the song itself is pleasant it feels hopelessly misplaced and out of touch on this album. Busy Hands ends with the flawless "Dandelion Head," which feels a lot like a reprise to "In Another Life." The ethereal and gauzy "Exit," finishes things off with a supple and understated grace that encapsulates the album rather beautifully.
Making a sophomore album is never easy and in just 13 songs Harper Blynn make it appear effortless. Rather than succumbing to the pressure or their own expectations, the quartet set out to make the best record they could, and Busy Hands is exactly that. With songs this good and albums this strong, the sky is indeed the limit for this Brooklyn group. Here's to album number three. Cue the drumroll.