Songwriter and performer Van William, who previously fronted indie rock bands Port O’Brien and WATERS, returns this year with his debut solo album, ‘Countries,’ released on January 19.
Hailing from a small, coastal California town, Williams crafted his song writing and spent his summers working on his father’s fishing boat in Alaska.
With his father’s announcement to retire and sell the boat, the news coincided with the break up of William’s six-year relationship, that ultimately led to an outpouring of heartfelt lyrics, folk guitar rifts and the construction of this riveting album.
Williams wrote the album in seclusion, but was later joined by close friends, co-producer Brian Phillips, drummer Griffin Goldsmith, bassist Chris Chu and keyboardist Tam Visher to add the finishing touches.
Featuring eleven tracks woven together by heartache, this is an impressive effort from the Californian. Simply defined as ‘American Heartache,’ the songs on the album take you on a journey thanks to William’s lyricism, soft vocals and melodic rhythms which convey a level of melancholy and an added sense of nostalgia to his music.
The opening track off the album, ‘Before I Found You,’ goes slightly against the heartache theme of the album with its upbeat tempo. In many ways it is an uplifting song, with a catchy chorus that you will stick in your mind forever. With distinctive guitar rifts this song is an instant mood lifter and a stark contrast from the central theme of the album.
Drawing from personal experience, Williams said the album was like “two people in a relationship acting as separate countries.” He relates the challenges of his last relationship to that of different countries trying to find a way to get along. This analogy can be heard in the emotionally charged ‘Revolution.’ Featuring the Swedish folk duo act First Aid Kit, their soft vocals are a great addition to the song.
The mellow track and harmonic lyrics capture the complexities of a couple or countries being at odds with one another. With lyrics like ‘I want a revolution, you want a sweet solution we never could see eye to eye,’ captures the heavy emotions of a breakdown in a relationship.
In standout track ‘The Middle,’ Williams mirrors a similar sentiment of the heartbreak theme with this simple but beautiful song, with his earthy vocals.
Countries does not solely focus on having a heavy heart as Williams looks ‘Skyward.’ An uplifting song with the perfect instrumental towards the end of the track. ‘Cosmic Sign’ is one of the latter songs on the album that has a country-inspired folk sound. William’s switches between low pitch to higher pitch vocals that adds a fresh dynamic to the song. It offers a level of optimism compared to the other songs on the album.
This is an album that is filled with raw emotion, honesty and exudes passion. William has struck the perfect balance between relaying the human experience of heartbreak and hope.
Countries is a perfect blend of melancholy, gentle harmonies, that will resonate with anyone who has shared these experiences.