It takes a lot of guts to leave your comfort zone. It takes even more to force yourself into a situation in order to do it. Michael Franzino has done just that and unearthed his brand new project alone. in the form of an ambient, emotionally gripping debut full-length record. Franzino, known for his work in A Lot Like Birds, secluded himself in nature for two months without electricity, internet, cell phone service, and anything of that ilk. Just him, his thoughts, and the goal to produce what would become the dreamy Somewhere in the Sierras.
Opening with “A Scopare Ma Non Sentire”, Sierras proves to get you as lost as Franzino made himself, encompassing the listener in a dreamlike state with, seemingly, no way out. “Leave Me” showcases Franzino’s singing chops while the percussive power shines through lead single “Close Without Closure”. Album highlight “Please Try” encapsulates every high point experienced on the record beautifully, especially vocals and lyrics: “Caroline, I pine / for your touch like a sober lush. / It’s been a week since we could speak / like we care to hear each other’s name.” Franzino is no stranger to creating advanced, technical arrangements—give a listen to A Lot Like Birds’ No Place—and it absolutely shows that he knows what he’s doing and that he’s doing it incredibly well.
“1 (800) 273-8255”, which is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, acts almost as the album’s second interlude, complete with a haunting, seemingly once-internal monologue: “If everything is meaningless / why haven’t you done it yet?” “More Fiend” provides us with some of the most intricate arrangements on the record, topped off with my personal favorite lyric: “When I die, will you write on my grave / that I was almost great?”
“You Are My Sunshine” gives off an anti-interlude vibe, laden with heavy programming, brooding vocals, and staccato percussion while still including the use of the classic, uplifting “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” chorus. Closer “Maternity Leave (Funeral March 28th)” is probably the emotionally heaviest track on the record, and is about the passing of Franzino’s mother. The track, surrounded by a gorgeous string section and a backbone sample of Chopin’s “Funeral March”, appears to prove why this project means so much to Franzino, and also why it works so well.
Somewhere in the Sierras is a record that resonates. Not just in sound, but in context. Franzino did the what most musicians would never dare and let absolutely everything flow (sometimes forcefully) naturally. What results is a record that never could have happened without some sort of push (financial, mental, physical, etc.) and one that needed to be done for him before anyone else, which is why it becomes so easy to get lost and ultimately find yourself within it.