Feelings, Mr. Flannery would tell you, are complicated things. Happiness, sadness?, leave the simple stuff to the amateurs. No, Mr. Flannery And His Feelings are after something a little subtler, a little more thoughtful, and ultimately, more provocative: gray areas, moments of ambivalence, aches, sudden breakthroughs, lightning-flash realizations. Try Your Hardest, the first album from Michael Flannery’s new project, is a flood of feelings that you don’t ordinarily find in a pop song – artistic isolation, admiration of a friend, the wistfulness of a sailor lost at sea, appreciation for a killer goldfish. This is Mr. Flannery’s gift: he can take an emotionally complicated subject and present it to his listener in three minutes of smart, accessible, instantly memorable music.
Try Your Hardest is a bravely varied album. On it, Mr. Flannery tackles synthpop, new wave, hard rock, abrasive punk, funk, and even a little calypso. In order to share with you the breadth of his writing, we’re sending you two videos today. “Embers Of Dead Fires”, a stark, chilling pop-rock track with roots in reggae, is paired with a noir-ish clip that shows a chained Mr. Flannery in peril.
These two clips couldn’t be more different. But they don’t contradict each other; on the contrary, they feel like twin expressions of a coherent and fully developed vision. Released through Hudson County’s Rhyme And Reason Records, Try Your Hardest is a debut of sorts, but Michael Flannery is no newcomer to music. He’s been a presence in New York and New Jersey music for many years as a producer, arranger, sound engineer, collaborator, sideman, and sounding-board for other artists. Like other studio auteurs who’ve taken a step into the center spotlight – Brian Eno, Thomas Dolby – his music makes an indelible sonic imprint that could never be mistaken for anybody else’s.
There’s a touch of Houdini to Paul Yates’s mesmerizing black-and-white clip for “Embers Of Dead Fires”. A bound Mr. Flannery sings as he is lowered by pulley into a cold backyard swimming pool. It’s spooky, provocative, and more than a bit uncomfortable – but you won’t be able to tear your eyes away. The producer in Mr. Flannery surely understands the value in amplifying small things until they achieve ritual significance. The newly minted frontman? He’s just delighted to deliver his message – and his joy is infectious.