photo by Shane O'Leary
'Days Like Pearls' named a hidden gem of 2019 by Tom and Goldflakepaint
Words by Sammy Maine
The idea of a persistent identity was percolating through Michael Cormier-O’Leary’s brain as he began writing his fourth full length album Anything Can Be Left Behind. As conditions change, relationships evolve, and surroundings adjust, what parts of identity are preserved and what parts aren't? The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and member of Friendship and Hour didn’t have the answer, but these reflections propelled him into a kind of experiment: how much of a persistent self remains when we improvise, react purely in the present moment and contort our expectations? The result is a collection of songs that stretch across fact and fiction, coating the world in cartoonish color to offer a new perspective, away from the constraints of who we think we are.
Cormier-O’Leary founded Dear Life Records, where he released his debut solo albums Days Like Pearls and M-F in 2019 and More Light!! In 2021. They presented an artist steeped in textural dexterity, where unexpected melodic arrangements and clashing chords dance alongside stories of anxiety, apathy and existential thought. While these previous releases relied upon a more diaristic outlook, where Cormier-O’Leary searched through the pages to form some sort of self actuality, Anything Can Be Left Behind is steeped in exaggerated story. Navigating a move from Philadelphia to Maine, a new marriage and the unpredictability of self-employment, the album points towards ambiguity and improvisation, where the act of transition is celebrated by succumbing to its incongruous nature. By turning to fiction, Cormier-O’Leary is able to parse an unprecedented reality.
Take the distorted tones of “Obtain,” where jarring, expeditious guitar and mountainous percussion mimics the hairpin bend of clearing out a childhood home after a parent’s death––something Cormier-O’Leary has never actually experienced. “Doing it in fiction feels like a dress rehearsal,” he explains. “Trying to predict what can go wrong and what will be hardest.” The lyrics for “Obtain” were written on the train as he traveled to a winter rental home in Westport, MA for a three-day session with Lucas Knapp, Bradford Krieger, Frank Meadows, Erika Nininger, Sam Sonnega and Courtney Swain. Cormier-O’Leary had most of the songs of Anything Can Be Left Behind in his back pocket, but he didn’t share them with the band until the very beginning of the session. Much like the uncertainty of our every day, where something can gut-punch us right out of the blue, the intention was to figure it out in the moment, and write songs in real time.
Shedding the rigidity of structure or the confines of control, and embracing a playful, experimental approach gives Anything Can Be Left Behind a child-like, giddy glaze. Leading up to the session, Cormier-O’Leary had immersed himself in the work of Mary Margaret O’Hara, and her 1988 album Miss America. “I feel like she made an alien's version of pop music,” he says. “She creates these other worldly versions of each kind of genre.” O’Hara’s work urged Cormier-O’Leary to try anything, to test out every color in the box of crayons. “Why not go ahead?” he says. “There's still gonna be this scrap of persistent self waiting for you when you're done.”
The sonic world of Anything Can Be Left Behind teems with the vitality of open collaboration, and points towards a convivial outlook, where pop songs are created purely for the fun of it, and Cormier-O’Leary can make fun of himself through a compelling fabrication. The glittery, choir-like opener “Here Comes Spring” revels in the joy of warmer weather; the lo-fi gulf-and-western indie of “Letter From Alan” immerses itself in a sweet correspondence between two old friends and “Newest Oldest Punk” laughs at the absurdity of passing time and crappy show beer, that culminates in a frenzied, instrumental exasperation.
Anything Can Be Left Behind submerges itself in uneasiness, but Cormier-O’Leary’s endearing narration encourages a jovial, ever-curious attitude. The album’s ambling title track crafts a cinematic inventory of everyday monotony, as Cormier-O’Leary sings “Everything’s before us / Surging and expanding / Anything / Anything can be left behind.” While we can leave situations, people and places behind, what impression do we leave in our wake? The conclusion is irrelevant. Instead, Anything Can Be Left Behind highlights the nonsensical, goofiness of existence; our only constant is change, so we might as well lean into it.
Releases on DLR: