The Day After My Confidence

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Though Michael's 1999 debut was a solid effort, in the end the album's marriage of emo, trippy Brit-pop, and progressive rock was too ambitious for the group to effectively pull off. This made the construction of the dreaded sophomore album that much more ominous. In October of 2000, after laying down introductory tracks at their home studio in Athens, GA, David Fairbairn (vocals/guitar), John Nowicki (bass), and Bob Sleppy (drums) found that a defining sound for the follow-up was eluding them. Michael took a break to think things over, eventually adding longtime pal and guitar player Asa Leffer to the mix. The addition of Leffer broke the creative logjam, and Michael returned to recording, this time at Nashville's Sony/Tree studios, with producer Paul Hart. The result is The Day After My Confidence, an album just as ambitious as its predecessor, but with a greater focus in its musicianship and songcraft. Granted, with no song under four minutes, the tracks take their time to unfold. But whether or not they're ultimately successful, the songs are more wholly formed than those of Michael's debut. And sometimes, when a track finally does reach its apex, like in the mournful, piano-driven outro of "Letter to Self," it can offer up some real pearls. Fans of the Promise Ring's new direction with Wood/Water might find some similarities in Michael's Baroque textures, though Fairbairn's vocals are closer to Jeff Buckley than Davey von Bohlen. In fact, "Still Life" and "Wishing Hour" are strikingly similar to some of Buckley's material. And a bit of that progressive rock Rush fetish resurfaces on "An Angel Smiles on Oceans" -- melodramatic lyrics and a muddled arrangement ultimately fail the song. But Michael redeems itself with "Finish Line," which successfully employs a string section to reach for an extra rung of emotion. While this sort of thing can backfire, when it works it helps to rearrange the influential building blocks of the band -- in Michael's case, an emo aesthetic shot through with progressive musicianship and the ghost of Jeff Buckley -- into new, effective music. Michael may still be figuring out what it wants to be, sometimes changing its mind midway through a song, but despite its weak points, The Day After My Confidence is an emotional recording that offers the listener plenty of promising corners to peer into.

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