As passionately as we’re conditioned to strive for first place in our success-driven world, deep down we all know we’re our truest selves when we’re confronted with failure. It’s a sobering subject, and perhaps not the first you might expect to inform a hook-filled, piano-driven pop album, but Julian Velard isn’t your average recording artist.
The New York-based singer/songwriter’s fifth full-length LP, Fancy Words for Failure, surveys that universal chasm of disappointment with the bemusement reflected in the its title. Suffused with the same musical warmth and melodic sophistication fans have come to expect, the album adds another batch of unforgettable characters to Velard’s growing gallery of hangdog rogues — potentially unreliable narrators who cop to professional jealousy, domestic discord, thwarted ambitions, and money woes; who acknowledge their lives are really pretty great, even as they can’t help but wonder why that brass ring remains stubbornly out of reach.
Leavening the melancholy strain that runs through the record is the classic songcraft that’s earned Velard a devoted cult following (and helped make him an unlikely favorite among pop connoisseurs in the Netherlands). Fans of Billy Joel’s early Brill Building eclecticism and Randy Newman’s acid wit will hear strong echoes of those traditions in Fancy Words for Failure, which — much like its songs’ protagonists — tucks its darkest moments behind a quick joke and a (mostly) sincere smile. As a songwriter, Velard continues to mature, weaving together chord changes that belie the depth of his musical background without ever forgetting the value of a hummable hook.