DIY isn’t easy—just ask my Dad, and what’s left of our bathroom, kitchen, dining room and hot press. Despite the occasional disaster, there’s something admirable about the spirit and determination that goes into the gutsy, confident stance of doing it yourself—of having the brass neck to decide that you’re going it alone.
Such is my admiration for Rapid Eye Movement, the new album, due September 20, from Conor Furlong. Furlong is a Dublin songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Maybe you’ve heard the single, ‘R.E.M Saved My Life Tonight’, currently enjoying radio play ahead of a September 16 release. With Rapid Eye Movement, Conor Furlong goes it alone. He arranged the album, performed every instrument (minus a harmonica solo) and produced it himself. Presumably, Furlong found some time to sleep while performing such mammoth tasks, but I totally forgot to ask.
Rapid Eye Movement is a ten-tracker, clocking in around 41 minutes and falling about between a few genres. There’s ’80s pop here, but more in the vein of the sombre, intelligent tunes of A-Ha, or The Beach Boys. There’s the feel of the solo singer-songwriter as well. A kind of character behind each sonic choice screaming a portion of the writer’s personality.
From an instrumentation perspective, this album is a buffet. Every bell and whistle (not literally bells and whistles, mostly) is here. From massive string sections and choir synths to the traditional quartet band—I’m just shocked there was no kitchen sink section. More power to Conor Furlong. His ability to compose for, and perform, such a wide range of instruments is impressive to say the least. There’s some serious skill involved in patchworking such a range of sonic fabric, and playing all the instruments yourself is the cherry on top.
There’s a mood in the album that reminds me of Irish band Codes—the massive ambience, the pleasant clashing between modern indie rock and the grand soundscape. U2 influences feel apt to mention as well, so many songs on this album are anthemic, designed for huge stadiums and massive volume. The R.E.M. influence is especially prominent vocally—and in the song titles, of course.
Regrettably, the production quality of the album is slightly lower than professional. While do-it-yourself is admirable, there are often occasions where the right thing to do would be to call in someone to fill the gaps in your own abilities. Unfortunately, I don’t feel this was the case with Rapid Eye Movement. A recurring issue throughout the album is poor vocal mixing. Often vocals are too quiet to decipher, or too drenched in reverb to cut through the other instruments. I know that heavy reverb is a stylistic choice, but sacrificing the legibility of the album for aesthetics feels wrong.
There’s some good lyricism here strangled by misused digital reverb. ‘Bow Down’ really suffers from this—a shame, as the track would have easily been my favourite on the album if the mixing was tighter. Not to say the mixing is bad, it just doesn’t reach the highest professional standards.
Perhaps a separate set of ears could have helped. That is the producer’s job after all, to collect all of the musical ideas, making them coherent and cohesive. While I truly, truly admire the sheer neck of producing your album yourself, I think that having another person as creative foil can work wonders.
The issue is that we live in an age of perfect mixes. Albums are mastered to sound like they’re inside your house. This kind of quality is why there are multi-million dollar studios, why people can end up paying millions to record an album. It’s deeply unfair to the artist who can’t shell out the cash for the shiniest record, but anything less than excellent can sound amateurish, and the quality of the writing and musicianship here is so much better than the production shows.
Even with that criticism ripped off like a band-aid, there are so many positives here for Conor Furlong. Take a listen to ‘Bow Down’ for some fine musicality, with twisty-turny guitar lines conjuring fun moods. Look at ‘Athens’ for its massive, anthemic energy. ‘Sleeping in Outer Space’ is the soundtrack to an alien child falling asleep sucking its thumb. ‘Your Sad Smile’ takes all your heartstrings and plays them like a harp. There is so, so much packed into every track that can be flaunted like peacock feathers. So I do feel like the asshat English teacher who thinks the essay is excellent but docked marks for handwriting.
With such sheer talent and Trojan work ethic on display, it’s hard not to feel excited about the future for Conor Furlong. Rapid Eye Movement is bursting with talent, songwriting prowess and incredible potential, but feels like the precursor to the true masterpiece.