Distributed By: mbilly
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When Portland-based folk/pop singer M William Helfrich, AKA: mbilly, started work on his sophomore album, Malheur, he decided to take things in a different direction. His first album, Mister Nobody Baby, was recorded over three years in four separate studios. This new album was recorded over ten days, with plenty of time in pre-production so the artist knew exactly where he wanted to go with it. But the most important difference between mbilly's first album and Malheur, due for release on June 5, 2012, is the reasoning behind it and the many unanswered questions it presents.
Malheur, French for misfortune, was written in the months after the death of Helfrich's best friend growing up. Over the years, the two had lost touch, but his untimely death raised a number of questions and unresolved feelings. According to Helfrich, "We weren't close at the time of his death, but it brought out a lot of feelings and questions that I hadn't anticipated and couldn't easily articulate." Equating these feelings with those he has for his hometown, also named Malheur. Drawing parallels between the two, Helfrich created an album filled with open-ended questions: "I didn't attempt to answer them. In past songs I've written I've tried to resolve them with an answer of some kind. The nature of the questions asked in these songs is such that there are no simple answers, nothing neat in the way things are wrapped up."
The result is an album designed to encourage the listener to think and equate with the situations presented in each track. I listened to this album a couple of times and, while I believe the music produced by mbilly is terrific, the singing leaves a bit to be desired. The singer is simply, for lack of a better description, off key. Now, one could equate this off key singing to the intense sorrow of the emotions presented in each track, but something tells me that this is just mbilly's voice.
The lyrics, however, are what really catch the listener's attention. With each song, one can definitely sense the songwriter's struggles with death and religion. The abrupt ending of a couple of songs on the album add to the lack of resolution that Helfrich intended to express. My favorite song on the album and the one I believe to be the most profound is Ghosts in the Room. The theme of this song reminds us that things said and done often last longer than the moment. The echoes, or ghosts, of a person's actions have a lasting impact on the individual, even though that person may no longer be in the room. The lyrics are such that I could completely imagine the events taking place in the song and relate to the message it was sending.
All-in-all, I feel that mbilly has quite a bit to offer to the music industry. His lyrical prowess alone will take him far. His musical ability is more than proven. Malheur is quite an interesting album, designed for the thinking man. One will definitely walk away from this album understanding mbilly's message that there are some events in life that can't be just summed up; that sometimes there are no easy answers.