“Songs from the Reading Room” by Arun O’Connor
Songs from the Reading Room is a bit misleading as a title. It makes Arun O’Connor’s debut album sound like a collection of low-key and demure singer/songwriter tracks brooding over his life’s injustices. It does, to a certain extent, reflect O’Connor’s penchant for introspection, perhaps a necessary attribute in any artist, but the title speaks much more to the intelligent and collected approach of the album. It isn’t a literal concept album in the way The Who’s Tommy or Pink Floyd’s The Wall is considered to be one, but the unity of theme and construction that O’Connor pursues is undeniable.
He kicks off the collection with an absolute stunner. “When the Darkness Comes Around” portends a weighty and possibly unpleasant listening experience, but rarely has helplessness sounded so compelling. He doesn’t follow the same template for each of the tracks, thankfully, but O’Connor’s first song is an outstanding exhibition of his talent for utilizing dynamics. “Let Go of My Heart”, the album’s second track, could scarcely be more different. O’Connor and his collaborators take a more straightforward tack with this and it’s not hard to hear this has obvious potential as one of the album’s singles.
Songs from the Reading Room has already experienced a significant measure of success thanks to a single release. “Too Far Gone” deserves that slot for a number of reasons, it’s easily one of O’Connor’s most audience-friendly tracks, but it stands out amongst the other album tracks as well. “Weight of the World” is one of the centerpiece songs on the release and offers arguably its most deeply felt vocal. The song, in some ways, revisits the theme of the album opener, but in a different “setting”. Some may hear the song as lush, and its deliberate tempo allows O’Connor a chance to stretch out some both as a singer and musician.
“Star of Your Own Show” is a near note-perfect folk-rocker with an authoritative backbeat and an affable demeanor. O’Connor’s voice brays with considerable passion at all the right points. It may seem like a bit of a throwaway to some, but the ability to toss off such completely realized songs shouldn’t be minimized. A surprising but convincing blues-rock influence makes itself felt during the damning “Used” and you can hear O’Connor really digging deep into this vocal. It has a cathartic edge that many will enjoy, and it isn’t difficult to envision this as a successful live “sing-a-along”.
The album’s true climax arrives with “When the Lights Go Down (In This Town)” and it is another hit waiting to happen. It has authenticity in every line, there’s nothing that seems false, and it will hit a nerve for anyone who’s ever slaved away at a dead-end job and enjoyed that moment when you can break away and the night is yours once again. He gives these thoughts the perfect musical vehicle and it carries listeners away from the outset. Closing the album with an instrumental reprise of the opener closes the circle for this release in very satisfying way and puts an exclamation point on what may be one of the year’s best debuts.