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
3 Iridium Flare
7 With Me
8 Define Yourself
9 Hold On
10 Broken Symmetries
11 To Nothing