Good Morning Passenger, released on the Slow Owl label, is the first full album by Ian Friley, who releases music under the name Good Morning Passenger. Ian has a knack for creating dreamy washes and soundscapes, underscored by humble yet driving rhythms, and wrapped up in catchy, accessible packages. He comes from a similarly talented family: his brother is Idiot Glee and Bedtime keyboardist, songwriter, and singer James Friley.
Good Morning Passenger is a surprisingly full, textured, and clear artistic statement, despite being composed of just eight tracks. It is a brutally honest, hypnotic album, a must-have for deep thinkers, and hopefully it is the beginning of a long life of writing and recording from Ian Friley. I simply love this album.
The album starts off with a track that might be familiar to Ian’s listeners already: “Baby Fingers and Baby Thumbs”. Several of the tracks on this album have been available on the Good Morning Passenger Myspace for a while, but Ian decided to release these tracks along with new material for his first full-length album. It’s a tender, catchy tribute to a child, and its down-tempo groove sets the tone for the whole album. Ian’s vocals are always straightforward but usually hidden under processed layers of distortion and compression. It’s not distracting though. The songs all seem to call for it, and I imagine cleaner vocals would have sounded a little too stark when juxtaposed with the swirls, washes, and loops that Good Morning Passenger is wont to use.
The album then moves to a little heavier track, “Deadknobs and Doomsticks”, a song title that certainly shows a theme of clever wordplay that is consistent throughout the album. This is one of the most immediate pleasures of Good Morning Passenger. Ian uses his lyrics to display emotionally perceptive, wise, yet ambiguous snapshots of his past, like a photo album that is always slightly out-of-focus (in a good way). When read through, his lyrics really read like a personal narrative in prose. Each line really gives the listener a sense of seeing the pictures in Ian’s head, if only for a moment:
“Man I swear talking to you is like
driving backwards with both my
eyes closed. I’d rather just say
nothing. But I drove three days to
see your face now you’re screaming”
– excerpt from “Deadknobs and Doomsticks”
Good Morning Passenger explores themes of complex personal relationships, and an even more complex relationship with life and death, as evidenced from the intensely personal stories in “Flowers are for Funerals” and “Cheap Poinsettias”. Reading too deeply into the lyrics here almost give the listener a guilty feeling, as if he or she is prying into stories not meant for their eyes or ears, but the touching sincerity and disarming emotional earnestness of these lyrics really seem to soften all of that. This kind of true honesty is rare in a musical world of trite angsty displays and pseudo-philosophy.
“Empty Beds” is a tune you will find yourself humming the rest of the day, it’s so catchy. In the midst of full, complex arrangements, Good Morning Passenger never forgets to reward the listener with a pleasant hook in every song. The long, tense-and-release atmosphere of each song hides the fact that they’re mostly quite simple in structure, without clearly defined verses and choruses, consisting of almost Mogwai-like loops. “Empty Beds” flows almost seamlessly in tone to the next track, the ghostly “Flowers are for Funerals”.
“Wake the Thieves” is the only track on the album with a co-writing credit, this one with Ian’s brother, James Friley of Idiot Glee and Bedtime. It begins with a simple acoustic riff, and moves into a now-characteristic slow crescendo with catchy melodies on top, and it ends with the creepy almost-shouted line “Wake up the thieves are gone.” “The Fox in the Hole” is a sinister story that uses the image of a fox dragging prey into its hole while reminiscing about the days of their youth together, an interesting but not out-of-place contrast to the blatantly autobiographical lyrics of the rest of the album. Finally, the album ends with “When Children Turn into Monsters”, which displays the most dynamic contrast of any other track. It is a fine track to end a brilliant statement of an album.
Good Morning Passenger is precisely a success because it quits while it’s far, far ahead. From the beginning of the album to the end, each song seems meticulously crafted to draw you unwitting into the stories. However, it is too raw, stark, and real to be any kind of escapist fantasy. The lyrics are so honest that each track leaves you needing to stop and think about what you heard, and luckily Ian understands atmosphere and dynamics well enough to give you the space you need when you need it. It leaves you emotionally drained, metaphysically intrigued, and yet wanting more. You probably won’t ever listen to Good Morning Passenger in a convertible full of friends on the highway with the top down, but you will certainly need it the next time you wish to just sit and think about life for a while, and at the low price that Ian is selling it for, there really isn’t an excuse to not buy it. I highly recommend headphones.
Good Morning Passenger: A (94/100)