Redemption and revelation are crucial elements in singer-songwriter Chris Robley's work, as he strives to document both the highs and lows of everyday life. His musical history is littered with songs that reference familiar and familial events—as well as those that come from a much broader emotional reservoir—but he always keeps these narratives open-ended, giving each person who hears his music the ability to bring their own experiences to bear on this existing rhythmic framework.
For Robley, the time since his last record, 2015’s "Ghosts’ Menagerie," has been marked by the emotional fallout of his marriage, the loss of long-term friendships and the questioning of choices made. But there has also been some light—he has since remarried and recorded an album that serves as a snapshot of his headspace during these turbulent years. And he wanted to keep these new songs far removed from the theatricality and lush pop soundscapes that marked his earlier releases. He focused on writing and recording songs that feel raw and emotionally vulnerable, developing a country-influenced sound that flirts with a host of pop and folk melodies.
This new record, "The Great Make Believer," finds Robley dissecting his life, one miraculous and cathartic moment at a time. By opting for something a bit more reserved and collaborative in nature (he brought in a cast of musicians for this album instead of trying to play all the parts himself), these recordings developed a life and pulse all their own. They aren't bound to his past but are carried onward by the promise of an uncertain but hopeful future.
On his latest single, "Veterans Day," he balances his thoughts about a woman with the emotions stirred up by the titular holiday. Opening with a rolling pop gait, the track layers Robley's gorgeous vocal croon over a shuffling percussive background. There's something mercurial and surprising about the graceful ebb and flow that washes over you as the song progresses. It's alternately comforting and riveting. He manages to instill a sense of momentum and weight to these experiences without sacrificing the ebullient swagger that clings to this kind of inclusive pop music.
Listening to "Veterans Day," it's easy to forget just how hard it is to fashion this specific pop aesthetic without losing a sense of your identity. But Robley easily draws back the sentiment to showcase the heart and earnest soul of his work. The song's complexity is subtle—it doesn't call attention to itself but merely expresses an ocean of feeling with the simplest rhythmic passages. As the song fades away, you're left with the feeling of having fully lived within another person's life, even if only for a short while.
"Veterans Day" is partially about the nostalgia you can have for a failed relationship long after it's ended. I was trying to depict a moment of tenderness and frailty right in the center of the pomp of a patriotic holiday. I wrote this song in the strangest guitar tuning I'd ever come up with. It's so strange that every time I try to play it again after a long break I have to go look it up .... When we were arranging the song at our makeshift studio out on the Oregon coast, the band was quick to pick up on the lyrical differences between the verses and chorus. The verses were hyperspecific and full of details. The chorus hopefully balances that out with some big abstractions .... so the music got pulled in those same directions: tight and almost yacht rock for the verses, and then the choruses are more harsh, menacing, and yet open and uncertain—which is basically how I feel about November. That month is a bit of a bummer. It's cold, but not cold enough for the snow to stick on the ground yet. It just falls and melts.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.