Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
As far as happy places go, James Friley likes getting to them, but those destinations are often lined with such aspects that aren't so happy. These spots that get to be breathtaking fairly quickly are lined with blighted trees, sickly wildlife and storm clouds retreating, we think. It's the shrapnel - all of these combined things -- lodged into the skin that are necessary to help feel the full effect of the happy places that are finally attended at the other end of that rocky terrain, around the one-thousandth corner, after an exhausting search. The Lexington, Kentucky, songwriter who writes under the name of Idiot Glee seems to specialize in the kinds of days that are both great for spontaneous-happy-go-lucky whistling and all-day-soakers-of-rains. There are warm and yellow lights at the end of all the tunnels that Friley writes about - finding the loves that cause headaches, but really are dreamy, and all of the other fractions of this scenario that make the act of finding these loves such a demented and fraught process, defined by more failures and frustrations than happiness, if anyone's keeping track at home. He brings storms and crackling skies indoors, letting them pour onto his carpeting and somehow, the sunshine gets in as well, wiping away the remains before anything's unsalvageable. It's a balancing act that always feels as if the scale is tipping in favor of the sunshine. It's as if he reinforces what we all suspect/know: that all the troubles the women and men cause for each other are parts of the pleasure, some of the best parts of the pleasure. Friley composes and sings like an old soul man, putting forth his disappointments in the same way that Brian Wilson did in the 60s and the same way that Jeff Mangum did with Neutral Milk Hotel not all that long ago. He drops toes into darker waters, pulling out images such as the one from "I Know My Mind," where he sings, "Your skin, your deepest bones/Outside/If you must say those things, could you please take your fingers away/Get your nasty little hands off of me/…Sure I'm scared to sleep/Won't you follow me?" He never gets lost in the shadows for long though, singing, "There are days when I can see my thoughts are all evil," but never giving us any reason to believe that it's "that" kind of evil. It's as if we're hearing the line coming from a man who thinks that damn is a cuss word and refuses to say it. Friley only touches on the bleakness, just softly, and then dashes it for the better view.