William Fitzsimmons‘ demeanor is slightly intimidating. He’s a lean man with a knack for wearing plaid and a full beard that could nest a small family of birds. But his music strays away from that indicative persona and has its own characteristics. Now, I’m new to Fitzsimmons but I’ve listened to Lions – his sixth studio album and newest release – multiple times and I’d say I’m affected.
From the beginning track, “Well Enough”, the album has a set tone. This acoustic ballad includes Fitzsimmons’ soft, melodic voice singing sweetly while a simple, slow, acoustic rhythm carries on. It also includes a sweet-natured farewell, one that states, “And I tried to find/a heart to hold/but my arm was tired/had to let you go.” Fitzsimmons, however, uses his developing chorus to exaggerate his expression of abandonment and apologize for it. Using the next lines, “But I hope I made you well,” which is repeated a few times, he almost seems to be giving up in order for that person to thrive. I’m more impressed because this breakup song includes some damn manners, and hope for betterment.
The album continues on with an acoustic assemble of songs, but differs in intensity and includes some variations in instruments. “Josie’s Song” is a little more upsetting, with the content focusing on a sadder issue, and Fitzsimmons’ voice fluctuations aiding in creating that atmosphere. The best line, “I can hear the sound of rain falling through the floor/as she lets you go/there’s a quality of pain/for you/she will endure/the measures of her love,” is striking and depressing, lending more to the song. Another song about pain, but still equipped with that constant theme of sacrifice. “Brandon” is a little more upbeat musically, with a single guitar providing a lighter rhythm. The intermissions between chorus and verse paint a flowery, pretty picture. But Fitzsimmons talks again of pain, this time physical. “Hold On” starts with him counting off, which is interesting because his actual voice is just as soft. The rhythm is quicker and remains that way throughout, and eventually the inclusion of other instruments creates a fuller sound. You can hear another guitar – and perhaps a bass – softly pushing the chorus and verses forward. It’s a song of questions like, “should I hold on?” This song evaluates fulfillment.
One surprise is “Centralia”, which starts with a hard guitar and drum combination. The musicians are literally just strumming and beating notes out, but it’s muted ever so slightly to give the impression that the sound is far off. Then a smooth, calm and slow guitar melody comes in, with Fitzsimmons admitting, “I offer myself to you/though I am a being thing/a cardinal with a severed wing,” which is great imagery. It takes a while for the song to pick up again, but this time a piano is utilized to at least drag out Fitzsimmons’ pivotal points.
The only song that throws me for a loop is “Took”, which doesn’t incorporate any of the elements the rest of the album seems comfortable with. It has an electric base with cheap drum tricks thrown in. Eventually a bigger, deeper drum comes in, distracting me even further. It sounds lazy, almost. Fitzsimmons’ voice doesn’t match it at all, and the elements collide. I can’t focus on what he’s saying because I’m just uninterested in it.
But “Took” aside, I’m very pleased with what Fitzsimmons has done with Lions. It’s painful but beautiful, and the organization of songs fits in to the identity of his music. I also like his depth and consciousness when it comes to descriptives. This album is from a storyteller, and I’m listening.