erasing clouds

Busytoby, It's Good to Be Alive (Parasol)

by Dave Heaton

Busytoby's first CD, It's Good to Be Alive, is one hell of a gorgeous pop album. It's my favorite album so far this year, one of the neatest things I've heard in a while. Band members Joe Ziemba and Amanda Lyons (both also in Wolfie) sing together beautifully, and they've got a ton of catchy melodies to sing (about 40 minutes worth). The album is dominated by piano and various keyboards, which serve as great accompaniment to the melodies.

This album, a "concept album," if you will, tells a story through 16 songs. The basic premise is this: Ziemba and Lyons, engaged in real life, imagine themselves as an elderly couple opening a box of memories in the attic of their comfortable home. The songs are their memories, following their lives from each growing up with their families to them meeting, falling in love, getting married, forming a family of their own (with 2 kids, Maia and Leaves), and growing old together. In one song they also speculate on what will happen after they die. From all of these memories, they gain the realization that, despite the inevitable troubles and hardships of life, they're pretty happy, all because of their families, friends, and neighbors, the people they are lucky to know. The overall lesson they learn is that life doesn't have to be that difficult, if you're intent on not making it so.

Busytoby do a fantastic job escaping the dangers that could have come with taking on such a project. This album could easily have been too preachy, more of a lecture set to music than an album, too serious, or too cheesy (meaning, in this case, unconvincingly or inauthentically emotional). This album is none of those things. It's a quick and completely enjoyable to listen to. The hooks are immediately and eternally catchy and hummable. The musicianship is top notch, with lots of nice sonic touches. And, despite seemingly straightforward nature of the story, the lyrics are poetic enough to maintain a sense of mystery.

This sense of surprise shines through during my favorite song on the album, "The Very Strange Rabbit," one of a pair of songs (with "The Fateful Day") dealing with the moments of nervous anticipation prior to their wedding day. But instead of some sort of straightforward "oh nervous me" song, this song depicts a sort of fanciful day that seems to involve the narrator getting an uplifting message from a rabbit during a bike ride. The song has a real mysterious tone, propelled by a carnival-ish organ and a unique vocal effect. The whole album has parts like this, where the musical choices they've made complement the story they're delivering. I love the way they sing up at a certain point in "Maia and Leaves," emphasizing the delight two people have in watching their children. I love how, in general, the keyboards and piano serve for me as an evocation both of childhood and of the passage of time (I guess because of the real-life associations I make with pianos: both kids taking piano lessons and dusty old pianos in the basements of grandparents), and that fits the story, and the album, well.

When this CD was released, the band issued a press release explaining their motivations behind making the album. Combine that with the band's web site, where you can find the album's lyrics and the complete story behind the writing and recording of the album as well as sound clips of songs on the album (oh, and the press release is on the web site too), and you have a situation where a music critic like myself is pretty irrelevant at this point. I can't do any deep "interpretations" of lyrics or speculate on the meaning of the album, because it's all out in the open. All I need to do is get you to their web site and you'll have everything you need. (By the way, that's at Check this album out -- for me it's one of those thrilling creations where every song leads perfectly into the next, and when it's over you're ready to hear it again.

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