More often than not, the songs we hear nowadays on the radio, in commercials and topping the Billboard charts are filled with brash, loud sounds created on computers or synthesizers and manipulated with autotune. And no, actually – there’s not an inherent problem with that. I actually love a lot of that music.
Yet it’s incredibly refreshing to hear an album every once in a while that’s the opposite. Hearing an album with hauntingly beautiful rhythms from stringed instruments not only feels hard to come by, but it feels so strange to me that it’s often like recovering a memory I had long forgotten about.
That’s what 2007 IU alumnus Michael Golden’s debut solo album, “Some Kind of Holiday,” feels like to me. It felt like a gateway to rhythms and harmonies I associate with moments throughout my life I haven’t thought about in quite some time. And it’s all thanks to the fact that, in comparison to today’s music, it’s extremely stripped down.
The songs featured on the album, such as “Ship in a Bottle” and “Mr. Ecstasy,” sound like they’d be in a movie like “Juno.” I say that because the songs, like the ones used in “Juno,” aren’t trying to be flashy. There’s a dedicated focus to the instrumentation and lyrics, which adds to the emotional pull of the songs. Even though some may claim modern pop songs are better due to their ability to sound polished with new technology, I actually think it’s when we strip back music — go to its roots, showcasing the unpolished sounds of voices without autotune and real instruments — that we create raw, emotional ties to the sounds.
I’m someone who pays attention more to the actual rhythms in songs than to lyrics, so, in an era dominated by — well — the lack of real-sounding instruments in songs, finding an album full of sounds from cellos, piano, guitar and more is an emotional experience.
That said, the lyrics on “Some Kind of Holiday” are pretty clever, too, and definitely not something to look over. Golden began songwriting at the age of 16 and the years of experience definitely shows. There’s a lyric in “Ship in a Bottle” I particularly like, saying, “But if wanderlust pinches your heart / And you’re called nor-east to make a new start / Then may your white sails billow again.” That delightful lyric captures a strong theme carried throughout the album: wondering about the world around us. Overall, the lyrics actually provide a somewhat existential experience.
This album would most likely be categorized in this era as “indie,” as that word has pretty much taken on the connotation that something is different, off-the-beaten-path and perhaps experimental in many aspects. The greatest “experimental” aspect of Golden’s album is actually in its sheer simplicity – the calming rhythms are something I imagine myself driving through Monroe Country’s winding roads to. And, to boot, Golden has a voice that, in many ways, actually reminds me of Bon Iver. It’s soothing, mesmerizing and stands out from many singers today.
Golden’s album feels like a beautiful attempt at reviving something humanity has slightly lost touch of in recent years: simplicity. And I mean that as a compliment. The overall simplistic sound is something I needed, and I’m sure others do, too.
“Some Kind of Holiday” comes out Nov. 20 and will be available on all streaming platforms.