Broken Symmetries by Peter Greenstone

cover art - Peter Greenstone

Written, performed, produced, and published by Peter Greenstone
2008 / CDBaby
11 tracks; 46:53 minutes
Reviewed by Tobin Mueller

BROKEN SYMMETRIES is Peter Greenstone’s second album release. It is even better than his first. (See review of Peter’s first album: SOMETHING.) From beginning to end, it holds together and creates a whole, leaving me satisfied, as if a worthwhile journey has been completed…

Peter crosses stylistic boundaries and combines surprising sounds within songs, creating a conceptual texture that nearly always enhances the lyrics and story being told, shaping moods with intuitive precision. He has a knack for transparent accents, whether it be sonar bleeps, ethnic percussion or ethereal orchestral touches, that create organic atmospheres. He always seems to be thinking – and making me think – whether it be involving lyrics, the pensive arrangements or his personal performances. I get the impression that each song touches him, which makes me want to be touched in turn.

The heart of his rhythmic sense comes from his closely mic’d acoustic guitar, whether strummed or picked. It’s easy to imagine every track being performed as a solo act on stage. These arrangements never dominate; they are all crafted enhancements, thoughtful frames giving focus and context to Peter’s intimate and always honest vocals.

Peter’s song writing is at its best when he stays within the folk-rock genre (tinged with Pink Floyd influences). The tracks that deviate are helpful moments of pacing and balance, but the tracks that compel and adhere are the acoustic lyrics-driven pieces. Mixing meditation, memory and a sense of loss, Peter’s artistic sense of poetic honesty shines through in such tracks as Iridium Flare, Hold On, Emmet, Subdivide and With Me, all marvelous songs.

The best songs come from a private place, a place that becomes universal through the intensity of each detail. Emmet, the most haunting of the group, is about a friend of Peter’s who dropped out while taking care of her parents, one with cancer and one with Alzheimer’s. Hold On was initially inspired by an old summer camp friend who used to send him letters with the return address “Never Never Land.” Broken Symmetries mixes philosophy of relationships and the physical nature of the Universe, how imperfections and conflict create something new; the track serves as a kind of antidote to the more powerful Subdivide (perhaps the best track on the CD) that questions how we draw artificial boundaries and isolate ourselves even as we crowd together. Peter is always more convincing when illustrating a sense of isolation and withdrawal. But the pain that animates Peter’s music comes through best in With Me (included below), maybe because I also get a sense on this track of the armor he uses to protect himself through his music. He obviously cherishes each moment/person, keeping them alive in song. That sense of cherishing is infectious. It transcends the sadness, in the end.

The album begins and ends with instrumentals. The opening (From Nothing) is unsettled and haunting, setting the listener up for what will follow. The closing track (To Nothing) is less compelling, more upbeat (almost heroic); it does a nice job completing the journey, creating a book end. There is also a sweetly meditative instrumental in the middle, Betweeness. The addition of these tracks adds a sense of Peter-by-himself, a window into private moments. The other non-folk-rock track (Solitario – written about a massive volcanic caldera out in west Texas) is my least favorite, employing an interesting mix of tribal rhythms and imagery. It’s well done, but lacks the sense of private truth that makes Peter so special.

We at MacJams have the privilege of hearing many of Peter’s early drafts, acoustic demos and experimental mixes. Following along with Peter’s process adds even more enjoyment to this collection of final mixes. I hear the tweaks, the overhauls, the special touches. But I envy the person discovering Peter for the first time; they will find a jewel that grows more beautiful with each listen.

The contemporary self-produced sing-songwriter needs to know much more than performance. Peter’s second album shows the maturity and growth of a true student of self-production. Here you will find a careful ear, a singular vision. No self-indulgence. This album is an example of the best of the self-produced music movement.

1 From Nothing
2 Subdivide
3 Iridium Flare
4 Solitario
5 Emmet
6 Betweeness
7 With Me
8 Define Yourself
9 Hold On
10 Broken Symmetries
11 To Nothing

Peter Greenstone’s Official Website
Peter Greenstone’s Macjams page (tracks on the site are not the final mixes from CD)


5 Responses to “Broken Symmetries by Peter Greenstone”

  1. Blaine Transue Says:

    I just received Broken Symetries yesterday and gave it an immediate listen. I’m going to let this one spin around in the car stereo for a weeks or so, at which time I’ll try to return for a more formal review.

    I do agree with this review on a number of initial levels however.

    1) As an avid Peter fan, I too most enjoy the tracks that come from that “private place” as Tobin mentions. Peter has that very rare ability to be able to perform with nothing more than his guitar and voice. While the instrumental enhancements to some of the tracks are nice compliments to his playing, I for one, don’t need them to appreciate the purity and truthfulness of his music, and at times, even find that it detracts from the natural honesty of his ability and talent.

    2) Given the above statement, Peter’s fans will be pleased to find plenty of “Peter” on this CD. I don’t know where this Texas boy gets that distinctly Euro accent, but I like it, and it works in quite naturally with his playing and songwriting style on this release.

    That the CD is designed to take you on a musical journey is evident from the start. The music on this release represents a stylistic departure for Peter and he let’s you know right out of the gate when he breaks tradition with “From Nothing”, a mysterious, haunting intro to the journey ahead.

    While the mood of the CD may seem a tad on the dark side, it is laced with Peter’s calm embrace of life, and enlightened vision of life’s challenges and uncertainties.

    Kudos Peter! I agree with Tobin, this is an excellent CD and an excellent “example of the best of the self-produced music movement”. Viva la Revolution!

    Blaine Transue

  2. Yeman Al-Rawi (Birdman Wayne) Says:

    I’m one of the true biggest fans of PGreenstone’s stuff. A great musician and as you said an excellent example of self-produced work. Unique vocal, top-notch music work and an excellent production.

    I had the chance to listen to most of the tracks posted at MJ from this album, all great even though they’re not the final mixes. My most favorite tracks are: Broken Symmetries and Subdivide. Least is: Solitario (not my style of work and kinda differenet from the real PG, loved the variety of styles in the album).

    Hold On has one of the best lyrics I’ve read and which I concentrated and payed attention to, and so is the touching and emotional masterpiece Emmet.

    This is a great CD, I promise you as soon as I have the chance to buy it, I’ll buy it. You deserve all the good and my deepest best wishes and luck for the album. Congrats!

    Take Care
    – Yeman A. Al-Rawi

  3. Neil Porter Says:

    Just received my copy and enjoyed the first play even though it was on the only stereo I could find (my wife’s $100 Sony. Even on that it sounded good. Next listen will be on My NAD setup with a glass of red.

    I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now.


  4. Rolande Winnike Says:

    What a great point you make. Yes, some people just don’t need to comment to feel they have participated to the fullest. That’s not their style.

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