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Friday, May 6, 2011

The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library - Volume One

Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library - Volume One
2011, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library

It's hard to understand how Michael J. Epstein even knows whether he's coming or going.  A Ph.D. who teaches the Anatomy and Physiology of the Auditory System, Hearing Sciences and Noise & Hearing, Epstein has released albums with The Motion Sick, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, and now his latest project, Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library.  Inspired by a wicked sense of humor and a trip to the Ronald Reagan Memorial building in Washington, D.C., Epstein chose the band name as an umbrella for a number of projects that may grow out of the ensemble in the future.  Speaking of the ensemble, Epstein chose his wife and additional six ladies via Facebook and Craigslist to support his muse, some of whom without significant musical experience.  Epstein's creative mind and the unfettered expectations of raw musicians creates a fresh dynamic on Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library's debut album, Volume One

MJEML opens things up with a catchy bit of orchestral/acoustic pop in the form of "Amylee".  Epstein takes issue with the inertia of life and the forces that constantly alter that which is good.  There's an out to save the universe feel here that's both serious and self-deprecating.  "Holy Ghost" is an intriguing number, utilizing the old Catholic school admonition to "leave room for the Holy Ghost" to call out one individuals use of spirituality to avoid close contact with others.  Epstein does this inside of a chorus that will set up shop in your forebrain and squat for days at a time, and manages to address a prickly personal issue without throwing anyone's beliefs under the bus.  Humor and tact can co-exist in pop music in the 21st century.  Who knew?

"The Weeping Song" is a sonically interesting piece crafted of semi-orchestral nuance and an atmospheric blend of vocals.  Listeners might be reminded of Loreena McKennitt of like artists here, but the image is fleeting against the martial beat and growing intensity of the song.  "Every Time I Visit You, It Rains" couches a song of regret over the mundane trajectory of a relationship in a catchy acoustic pop number.  The song reflects an optimistic view of a relationship that is perhaps already gone, and the split personality of lyric and melody will keep you coming back. 

"Stranger" is a wonderfully bright pop song with the dark sinew of change and mortality running through it.  The supporting instrumentation is layered, complex, and occasionally multi-rhythmic in an ever shifting bed of sound.  "Lymph Nodes" has pretensions to a bastardized bluegrass lineage; an entertaining bit of seeming nonsense that shakes its fist at a nonsensical world and reacts the only way it knows how.  The tune is incredibly catchy, and seems perfect for a film or television soundtrack somewhere.  "Civil Engineering" addresses the dumbing-down of society through over-exposure and escapism.  There may be a defacto implication that this is all by design, but the net effect is a world mired in its troubles because individuals have lost their ability to communicate.  Humor and sociology mix for damning indictment of a world on a collision course with anything in its path.

"4th Grade Book Report Blues" is perhaps the one misstep on Volume I, a case where the song likely seemed funnier as a theoretical than it bears out to be on the album.  The sound is great, but something just doesn't click here.  "Oh Emily" returns to the bright, airy folk-pop sound, a paean to a lady so involved in her personal misery she can't see the world around her for what it is.  Volume One closes with "Small Crack", an incredibly infectious bit of acoustic pop music about an impending jailbreak.  The breezy feel contrasted with the subject matter lays irony open for public discourse, but conversation dies in lieu of the urge to sashay along to the music. 

Every so often a band comes along with such a fresh approach to making music that you drop whatever you're doing and listen closely.  Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library is that sort of band.  The light-hearted intellectualism and wit of Michael J. Epstein and the unaffected musical perspectives of his band make for a joyous listen on Volume One.  This sort of magic is hard to recreate, but for now its okay to revel in what may just be one of the best debuts of 2011 (so far). 

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library at or  Volume One drops on May 10, 2011.  Digital pre-orders are available via

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