The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library - Faith In Free
Record Label: None
Release Date: June 5, 2012
No, Michael J Epstein is not dead. Not that anyone would believe that anyway. This is coming from the band that called themselves a library, after all. Their name is just about as hard to explain and understand as their music. I guess I'll start by saying The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library are a large band from Massachusetts consisting of eight members and various other people that had a role in making their little three-song album "Faith in Free." The songs are simply titled "Faith In Free Part I," "Faith In Free Part II," and "Faith In Free Part III," which I will refer to as Parts I, II, and III. The songs just barely break the ten minute mark, and they blend pop/alternative with classical. And I don't mean they take a slight classical influence like other bands do. TMJEML are making songs that sound like three minute excerpts straight out of a Stravinsky symphony, slightly altered to match the modern style. The songs were even written for a ballet performance in Berklee College. Now, this is the part where things get a little misleading. That's because this CD doesn't actually sound like a Stravinsky piece. These are verse/chorus/verse songs we hear every day, just with a twist. Now before I confuse you all to no end, let me go on.
I've decided to break this down into two parts: reviewing it as a classical record, then as a modern pop record. I'll start with pop, because I want you all to know that I don't like that I have to use that word. It just so happens to be the most appropriate one that came to mind. There is such a heavy classical influence that it isn't really going to directly relate to any common modern genre. But before I get into classical, I'll say that these songs don't do much for creativity. I'm sure that's the last thing one would expect, but the general structure of the songs don't change much. The dynamics are almost exactly the same throughout each song, aside from a few changes in the drums and one beautiful bridge in Part III. The chord changes are minimal and the vocal melodies stay quite similar throughout, especially in Part III. Song structure is the most interesting on Part II. There is a distinct shift in mood through the music, and the drums speed up the tempo to about twice as fast to emphasize that shift even more. That's probably all I can say about this album as far as reviewing the modern aspects. This part is the one that drags the album down the most, but the classical side of the album is strong enough to balance everything out.
Right from the beginning of the album, the acoustic guitar comes right out with a simple and dark riff. Soon after, the glockenspiel is added to add more dimension and to provide a solid backbone to the instrumental section throughout the songs. After the vocals come in, the song begins to take off, the other instruments finding their way in and adding layer after layer to the structure. This pattern repeats itself in Part II as well, just with a heavier focus on the melodies and the rhythm section. Also worth mentioning is a phenomenal use of tremolo from the viola after the first chorus, adding a delicate yet frail tension that brings out the power of the rest of the song. Then there's the bridge in Part III. This is probably the high point of the CD since the repetitive and monotonous structure that had been heard before breaks down and all that's left is a peaceful harmony between the viola and the flute, which carries over perfectly to the ending.
This album does a lot of things right. It does something different. It masters a three hundred year old genre and takes it into the modern world. It explores a variety of different moods: a dark song to match the lyrical content of death, a more tense and almost creepy song to relate to concepts in society, and an upbeat song to enforce the lyrics of positivity. However, many of these great strides have been minimized by the painful simplicity of the song structures. It really does a lot more harm for them than the album can afford. If TMJEML simply uses less pop, this problem could be gone. It's just that classical music is big. Really big. We're talking 40+ minute symphonies and 80 piece orchestras. Of course, I'm not suggesting they gather 80 people, but they just need to go bigger. Making a statement like that would really solidify their strengths and the product could be something worth talking about.