The Great Make Believer
Artist: Chris Robley
Produced by: Cutthroat Pop Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Once known as the "Stephen King of indie-pop," Chris Robley was known for music filled with lush orchestration, but for his fifth album, The Great Make Believer, Robley decided to strip that all away to create an album that was raw and right to the point. It's been five years since his last album and there was a method to Robley's madness.
The Great Make Believer was meant to be a cathartic album. Shortly after the release of his last album, Ghosts' Menagerie, Chris Robley's life began to fall apart. His marriage failed and he moved from Portland, Oregon to Maine. His father was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote songs to get all the feelings down on paper, but didn't record them. According to Robley, "After the aforementioned life-bomb explosion, songwriting became a way for me to heal from what had happened, but actually recording and then releasing the music took a backseat to some bigger things going on that were far more important than me putting out another album: starting a new relationship, becoming a father, moving back east so I could be closer to my parents while my dad deals with ongoing treatments for his cancer. Just life, trumping art."
Five years later, newly married and having watched his daughter grow, Robley decided it was time. Getting together with Arthur Park on bass, Naomi Hooley on vocals, Bob Dunham on electric guitar and Paul Brainard on pedal steel, Chris recorded his songs with much more concentration on stripped down music and less orchestration and production tricks.
The resulting album has a folk-pop/alternative feel and features songs that express the emotions and drama Chris went through over the past few years. The Great Make Believer opens with Eden in which Robley equates his love with that of Adam and Eve, offering up the message that the more obstacles a love comes across, the more the relationship is worth. Another notable track is 1973, the story of a one night stand with a woman met in a bar in Brooklyn that produced a child. One can actually picture a middle-aged man finally facing the person who has searched for their father and relating the story of their conception with a distinct indifference to their emotions...a certain disconnect to the son or daughter he never knew. I was rather surprised to hear a kazoo being used in this track, but for some reason, it works.
Evangeline is a softer track in which the singer begs for forgiveness for the broken heart he has caused. In Mission Bells, it's Chris Robley's turn for the broken heart in a catchy tune with a storytelling quality. Stained Glass Windows seems to be a song written shortly after Chris Robley's divorce in which he struggles to understand what has happened to their relationship and the changes that he now must endure thanks to its demise.
It would seem that the five years between albums was well-spent. The Great Make Believer is an album full of raw emotion performed with an acoustic vibe, stripping away all the production magic so we can get to the heart of the music and the lyrics. Robley's vocals are heartfelt and why shouldn't they be when the lyrics are representative of moments in his own life. The back-up vocals perfectly blend with his and the music is beautiful in its simplicity. To sum it up - a job well done and an album definitely worth listening to.