reviews for Just Like Breathing
Some records are meant to dream to. Just Like Breathing is that record.
Filled with lush and cinematic soundscapes, Roback, the wife of the former Rain Parade bassist and Viva Saturn leader Steven Roback (who also co-produced and lent his considerable guitar skills), has crafted a strong debut that fills the comfortable space between the spare folkiness of Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval’s psychedelia. Over 11 songs, Roback’s lilting soprano provides a soothing counterpoint to tidal washes of gentle acoustic guitar and Steven Roback’s tasteful electric fretwork. High points here include the stately “Lady Don” (extra points for mentioning Marc Bolan in the first line), and the bittersweet travelogue “New Britain,” which serves as a reminder that you can go home again, but you’ll often rue what you find there. — John Micek
Missy Roback leads off her debut album Just Like Breathing with “Take It Back,” a dire song about a relationship on the edge. It’s about asking the demons to return to Pandora’s Box after they’ve been released.
Now that the lie’s uncovered
Can’t we just take it back?
I didn’t seek to love her
But I did give it back
Not even sure if I can say
If we will see another day
Maybe in time we’ll find a way to keep it now
Maybe we’ll find a way to let it be somehow
This snapshot of a relationship teetering on the edge of dissolution is a recurring theme on Just Like Breathing. Missy and her husband of ten years Steve Roback combine the lyrics and her beautifully serene voice (which recalls both Aimee Mann and Hope Sandoval) with arrangements that together create an atmosphere of the loneliness that overwhelms in the final stage of a romantic connection.
Steve Roback, who is no stranger to these types of arrangements, produced and played on the recording, adding a lot of the laid-back psychedelia that he brought to the world in his former bands Viva Saturn and The Rain Parade. Tim Mooney, formerly of the American Music Club, engineered and mixed the album. These bands were always good at creating not only music but an atmosphere, and on Just Like Breathing they accomplish the same task. For this type of album, it is hard to imagine a better team of artists that could be brought together.
“I wrote everything on guitar, except for the title track, on piano,” explains Missy. “And then we worked out the arrangements as a 4-piece (sans drums — we didn’t work with Tim until we went into the studio) and played them live as they evolved. Steven is the master arranger — he really directed Leigh Gregory and Grant Miller, the two guitar players, in terms of their parts. I came up with a lot of the harmonies, but Steven and I also collaborated on some in the studio.
“A few songs were recorded pretty much as I had imagined them, like “Take It Back” and “Lady Don,” but a couple songs really evolved — “Blue-Eyed Baby” started out like a Ramones song, and “Mermaid” was a rocker until Steven stripped it down to its essence in the studio.”
Although Missy has sung background vocals on a few projects in the past, this is the first time she has ever been featured behind the mic singing lead on a recording of her own. The combination of her voice, the music and the production create quite an ethereal atmosphere that reminds me of the Rain Parade’s classic records in the 1980s.
This is also Missy’s first songwriting project, although she’s been a writer by trade for years. She knows how to use words concisely, boiling thoughts down to fit into a three-minute pop song and still carry all the weight of the original idea.
“I have been writing stories and essays since I was about 10 years old. I’ve supported myself as a professional writer/editor for nearly 20 years — I’ve been on both sides, journalistic and corporate, and have done features (my favorite), news, technical writing, editorials, scripts, et cetera.
“I’ve been a freelance writer/editor for 4 years now, mostly high-tech marketing copy and books (I edited a book that Steven wrote last year — we do a lot of work together), plus occasional magazine editing.”
Currently Missy is trying to develop some of the songs from Just Like Breathing into short stories.
These singular artists are all brought together in a symphony of talent in Roback’s lonely tales. A great example of these parts working together successfully is the title track, which Missy explains “took a measure of fearlessness on my part. It’s raw, in an understated way.” She sadly sings, “I’m keeping it up/ This smiling masquerade…” accompanied by a lone rhythmic piano. The instrumentation is minimal, but the sound fills the room. A cello joins at the end of the first verse; as her confession grows (“I’ve always said I see both sides/ That doesn’t justify your lies…”) so does the arrangement, with the cello adding counter-melody above her voice. At the end of the second verse, a bowed upright bass comes in rhythmically along with the piano and adds a thick wash of darkness of the type reserved for pivotal scenes in Hitchcock films.
The intensity builds, and the first lyrical kicker comes in the third verse.
And after a while
It must be just like breathing
So natural, no need to think
But tell the truth
Does it not get to you?
Or is your conscience on the blink?
“Or is your conscience on the blink?” Wow. She’s not sad, she’s mad. We are witnessing someone laying down the law.
I’ve always said I see both sides
That doesn’t justify your lies
Consider what it’s worth to you
‘Cause every day you stand to lose
‘Til you’re just someone I once knew
At this point the piano finally breaks from its rhythmic pulse and adds some bright melodies way up high. Hannah Marcus adds airy background vocals as Missy continues by asking for an end to the lies. Now she sounds like a pillar of strength with a Just-Try-To-Fuck-With-Me-Again attitude. It’s chilling, and the music makes it colder.
The song ends with the deal. The final lyrical kicker.
Consider what it’s worth to you
You know each day you stand to lose
But just like breathing you can’t stop
So keep it up.
At the end of this song all I can think is, “Holy shit, I’m glad I’m not him.” All the parts have come together to best transfer the feelings of loneliness, despair, and anger that come from the woman in the song.
Sometimes good songwriters can come out of nowhere. But a songwriter alone does not make a great record. Just like a three-legged horse won’t win the Belmont Stakes, songwriting chops alone don’t make a great album. With Just Like Breathing, however, Missy and Steven Roback, along with a well-chosen group of musicians, have created the total package. A great CD from top to bottom. — Steve Gardner
Produced by husband Steven Roback (ex-Rain Parade), Missy Roback’s debut is a stunner. Her alt-country, psych-infused songs shimmer with fragile intensity and are swathed in the kind of atmospheric production we’ve come to expect from the Robacks. Check out the track “Compass” — it’s a thing of sheer beauty. — Scott Crawford
#31, Winter/Spring 2003
This record is stunning. Missy Roback creates 11 slow ‘n’ steady winners and pushes the envelope with her dreamy vocals and the swoony guitars which jangle all over the place. There’s elements of psyche, alt-country and dreamy slowcore as well and Missy tackles them all with equal aplomb. This record was produced by The Rain Parade’s Steven Roback (Missy’s husband? brother? cousin????), a man who, along with his brother David (R.P., Mazzy Star, etc.), should have a small shrine in my household for all the time I have given to Rain Parade records over the years. The title track is especially haunting. Do not miss this record. — Tim Hinely
To live with a musician like Steven Roback (Rain Parade/Viva Saturn) has to be a hard temptation to resist, so his wife Missy has, at the end, given up and recorded her own CD in collaboration with her husband and some other famous artists such as Tim Mooney (American Music Club) and Leigh Gregory and Grant Miller (Mandible Chatter) for the instrumental and technical support of the CD.
The CD is very sweet, dreamy folk music built around Missy’s voice, and it is easy to compare it to the music of Aimee Mann, the last icon of the alternative American folk music. Just Like Breathing is a CD of subtle melancholy (“The Only One,” “New Britain,” “Just Like Breathing”) built with the usual little things that enhance the palpable feeling of loneliness (snowflakes, the bitter taste of abandonment, stars, scattered memories) and with languid autumnal arpeggios, sporadically with a taste of neo-psychedelia (the already mentioned “The Only One” was written with Steven), to spread a soft melodic carpet for the really beautiful voice of Missy. Another name to add to the list of the most talented female singers around today. — Franco “Lys” Dimauro
(thanks to Marco Nicosia for the translation)
Missy Roback has assembled a stellar cast of San Francisco’s best session musicians for the melancholy affair that is her debut recording, Just Like Breathing. Her husband Steven Roback (ex-Rain Parade, Viva Saturn) produced the recording and added flourishes of guitars, keyboards and bass; Tim Mooney (ex-American Music Club) supplies drums where necessary, and Leigh Gregory and Grant Miller (Mandible Chatter) contributed on guitars. But Just Like Breathing is entirely Roback’s own project.
Her subtly aching voice earns comparison to Aimee Mann, as well as Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. She wrote all 11 cuts on the CD and added stark piano on the deceitful but breathtaking title track. Here she makes the creative analogy of comparing a lover’s lie to the simplicity of taking a breath — a stark and harrowing tune, honest in its raw emotion. Roback’s sincerity and credibility are her strengths as she tackles love and love lost. On “Sight Unseen,” she looks back in hindsight at a relationship that might have been had the narrator made smarter choices. She’s lost in the movies of her hometown playing in her head on “New Britain.”
With the solid production and musicianship of the stellar cast behind her, Missy Roback’s Just Like Breathing is an excellent debut from a talented songwriter. — Bill Clifford
It’s hard to overstate the value of an inventive producer to a singer-songwriter — after all, there’s no shortage of fine voices in the world, and before one can begin to appreciate the qualities of a solo performer’s composition, the arrangement is its crucial calling card. For an artist with as intimate a mindset as Connecticut-by-way-of-San Francisco’s Missy Roback, it doesn’t hurt that her producer, who is also her husband, is ex-Rain Parade leader Steven Roback, a formidable pop power in his day — and, evidently, hers. Just Like Breathing is rich, comfortable chamber pop — not too fussy, not too ornate — in subtle but strong service of songs about relationships in trouble and emotions in check, loves lost and found. Roback sings in a firm, inviting alto with a muscular vibrato; a tinge o’ twang that adds a come-hither suggestiveness to her late-night lyrics is echoed in the steel guitar cries of the opener, “Take It Back.” The deliberate tempos underscore the fullness of the album’s instrumentation — guitars, cello, piano, organ, drums — while amplifying the impact of such flavorings as feedback (on “Sight Unseen”), e-bow (“Compass”) and mellotron (“Sleep With the Mermaid”). A handsome, engaging, intelligent debut. — Ira Robbins
Pop Culture Press
Shimmering guitars, beautifully rendered spectral arrangements, insinuating songs: Missy Roback’s CD debut, Just Like Breathing, is a startling collection of rainy-day ballads, mournful tales of emotional disconnection, and songs of graceful fragility. With ex-Rain Parader (and husband) Steven Roback in the producer’s chair, Just Like Breathing bleeds from gorgeous folk/psych like New Britain to the brittle, loping country twang of Blue-Eyed Baby. Though the record’s dreary mood does become a little overwhelming over the course of its 11 tracks, virtually every song sinks deep in your cranium before long, and Just Like Breathing becomes one of those records you just keep coming back to. Here’s hoping a follow-up comes sooner than later. — Luke Torn
A unique blend of Missy Roback’s intensely emotional vocals with an alt-country flavor is captured on her debut album, Just Like Breathing. Though Roback sets her dreamy vocals to alt-country arrangements, she’s no carbon copy of the genre’s other female cohorts. Her voice is a gentle whisper compared to a bevy of whiskey-chugging, fast-loving crooners out there.
Now in its second pressing, Just Like Breathing has obviously received some attention for its distinctiveness, but unlike high-energy alt-country artists such as The Meat Purveyors, Roback’s music doesn’t set out to inspire fervent dance. It’s not even of sing-along caliber; comparisons to singer/songwriters Aimee Mann and Emmylou Harris are better justified. Despite her cheery mug on the CD sleeve, Roback has a penchant for slow tunes that reek of the lovelorn and hopeless romantics. The exception is “Blue-Eyed Baby,” which is probably the most upbeat and lively track on the album: “When I think about you time just slips away / I wanna wake up next to you every day.” But the majority of the album milks sadness for all it’s worth. On the opening track, “Take It Back,” Roback sings, “I’m lost in the darkest feeling / About the life I’m leading.” The title track also resurrects some troubled sentiments: “I’ve always said I see both sides / That doesn’t justify your lies.”
Though most of the 11 tracks are cheerless at best, at least they’re sincere and, for the most part, are Roback’s own inventions. Though Just Like Breathing is described as a “pop record” produced by her husband, Steven Roback (Rain Parade, Viva Saturn), Missy Roback’s input as a singer/songwriter/guitarist gives the album much more authority than if it was entirely written and arranged by a third party.
If you’re prone to a broken heart, Just Like Breathing may just be your soundtrack. Don’t forget the tissues. — Erica Gallagher
Issue 43 (Jan./Feb. 2003)
In addition to being a gifted singer and songwriter, San Francisco’s Missy Roback is obviously a music fan. On this debut (produced by her husband, Rain Parade and Viva Saturn vet Steven Roback), her liner-note thank-yous end with the intriguing trio of Freddie Mercury, Paul Westerberg, and long-standing pub-punkers the Reducers. Then, on the Aimee Mann-ish “Lady Don,” she sets the scene with this opening couplet: “Bolan on the radio / And you claimed to know the song / Eyes of youth, the guise of truth / And I longed to sing along.”
But don’t look to that list of artists for clues about Roback’s sound. Hers is a delicately layered folk-pop blend that features enough bite to keep things from frothing over, with a voice that shares more than enough emotion to keep it on the right side of Too Gorgeous For Its Own Good.
“New Britain,” an ode to her Connecticut hometown, finds organ, understated electric guitar and shining harmonies teaming up to create the album’s loveliest moment. Its most memorable one comes two songs later on the 12-string-sporting “Blue-Eyed Baby.” With its pleasing familiarity and charmingly straightforward presentation, it sounds like something off Yo La Tengo’s music-geek classic Fakebook.
It’s become customary to describe gentle, atmospheric albums like this as being perfect for Sunday morning — customary enough to become cliché. So let’s just say Just Like Breathing was made for really, really late Saturday night. — Rick Cornell
Oh lordy, I hate it when I’m reviewing a female artist and just end up comparing them to other female artists — as though their gender is what defines the music. But as I listen to Missy Roback’s disc again and again (enjoying it each time) I still find myself thinking of Aimee Mann and Chrissie Hynde (when Hynde sings a ballad). And, if that’s not enough, the opening track, “Take It Back,” features sweeping slide guitar work that sounds like it could have come right off a Mazzy Star album.
I suppose such comparisons are going to be unavoidable because Roback’s smooth voice is the center of this record. It glides over the songs, lulling listeners and drawing them in. It projects an effortless strength, sliding up and down through the songs. The title track is stark, with mostly her voice and the steady repetition of piano chords. Meanwhile, “Compass” shows more of a folk flavor. For the most party, though, the entire record has a misty and haunting quality that complements the mostly dour sentiments of the lyrics.
Of course, when you have a member of American Music Club (Tim Mooney) helping out with percussion and engineering work, you shouldn’t expect a party dance mix type of record. Still, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to provide more “up” moments. Roback hints that not everything is black clouds on “Blue-Eyed Baby,” but that is the exception. I enjoy a sad song as much as the next guy, but it’s like a friend who’s depressed — you support them when they are down because you’ve seen them when they were happier. The substitution of a few different songs would show the range that I’m assuming Roback possesses. After all, one can’t thank Paul Westerberg and Freddie Mercury in the liner notes without being able to rock out a bit, can they?
This is a record to absorb with your eyes shut, listening for the subtle play of an organ, cello, or piano drifting through the background. And it’s actually through this subtlety that the lyrics can hit the hardest. — James Baumann
Dreamy debut from American singer with perfect pop voice
Despite a horrible cover and an irritating name, Missy Roback has made a fine debut album. Produced by Rain Parade’s Steven Roback and mixed by American Music Club’s Tim Mooney, Just Like Breathing is as melodic as those connections would suggest. But dreamy, lo-fi Americana and haunting psychedelic arrangements are only half the story. Add Roback’s voice, which has that angelic quality associated with classic ‘60s American girl groups, and the juxtaposition is glorious.—Nigel Williamson
Bucketfull of Brains
I’ve known Missy Roback for 10 years and had no idea she could even sing. That, out of the blue, she should come up with a debut album as hauntingly lovely as this is enough to buckle your knees. Pure as a mountain stream, Roback’s voice fits right in with a long, storied line of folk/country-influenced warblers — Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, Barbara Manning and Emmylou Harris come to mind immediately — who could tunnel into the central nervous system of a song with the simplest of tools. Roback’s backstreet-bistro voice, with just the slightest dusting of vibrato, has nothing to do with operatic flash. The lysergically baroque production flourishes applied by her husband Steven (Rain Parade, Viva Saturn) drapes her songs in a velvet mist of gently moaning guitars, chiming harpsichord and droning, Pink Floyd-ish organ. Just Like Breathing would make the perfect soundtrack to one of those long road trips where you avoid the super highways and spend most of the day, instead, on the backroads, looking for the perfect lunchtime cafe. Like those roadside-diner servers from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Missy Roback has her pink cotton dress on and she’s ready to take your order. — Jud Cost
San Francisco singer-songwriter Missy Roback’s debut, Just Like Breathing, is a moody, oft-dark, brooding blend of acoustic guitars and piano, an elegant and roots-y approach that helps propel Roback’s folk-pop sound beyond those of her peers. Just Like Breathing is a relief of fresh air, an album that holds true to the finest moments of pop and folk, without ever having to deal with any of the lesser moments. Her plaintive voice steps the songs up a few more notches, giving the songs the depth and follow-through they need to really make an impact. This is an exceptional debut from a singer-songwriter that should, by her third full-length, be a nationally recognized act. I’ll give it an A-.— Alex Steininger
Issue 56 (Oct./Nov. 2002)
I’ve known Missy Roback for 10 years and had no idea she could sing. That, out of the blue, she should come up with a debut as hauntingly lovely as this is enough to buckle your knees. Roback’s voice may not have that Paula Frazer/Joan Baez operatic flash, but she isn’t working on a 600-page novel here. Like the concise, understated writing of Willa Cather, Roback’s work has more in common with the perfectly rendered short-story form. The lysergically baroque production flourishes of Roback’s husband Steven (Rain Parade, Viva Saturn) drape her songs in a velvet mist of gently moaning guitars, chiming harpsichord and droning, Pink Floyd-ish organ. “Blue-Eyed Baby” fills out every second of its 1:59 with a ringing, Gram Parsons-like back-porch feel. The title track opens with a “MacArthur Park” piano vamp, and buoyed by Diana Senechal’s cello and the harmony vocals of fellow San Franciscan Hannah Marcus, Roback’s astringent ultimatum is the perfect palate-cleansing antidote for the bombast of the Richard Harris/Jimmy Webb epic. Heretical though they may seem this early in Roback’s career, comparisons with the timeless beauty of Emmylou Harris and Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny aren’t out of order. — Jud Cost
Missy Roback and friends put out instant classicThe weak overcomes the unbending, and the submissive overcomes the strong — Lao Tzu, chapter 43
Rain Parade (originally The Sidewalks), the Los Angeles ’80s “Paisley Underground” poster band formed by a couple of friends from Minneapolis (David Roback and Matt Piucci, along with David’s younger brother Steven), disintegrated in 1988 after a rocky seven years but spawned a family of notable musical projects including David’s Clay Allison, Mazzy Star, and Opal; and Steven’s Viva Saturn, which most directly followed Rain Parade’s muse.
This year Steven produced and independently released two new records. Snowy is a chill-psychedelic project for vocalist Bonni Evensen; and Just Like Breathing, out today on his own Hear Kitty label, is the debut album by his wife, San Francisco singer/songwriter Missy Roback.
Just Like Breathing is easily the subtlest record I’ve heard this year, with dangerously delicate and fragile musical textures — piano-key noise, breath sounds, and nearly subliminal background vocals — impeccably balanced against acoustic guitar, softly played drums, and gentle electric bass. All of it perfectly frames Missy’s shy and artless and stunningly emotive vocals.
The exceptional production and engineering don’t outshine the lyrics but rather are all about promoting them. And as the music draws you in, the words pierce your heart. On the title track Missy sings “I’ve always said I see both sides/ That doesn’t justify your lies/ Consider what it’s worth to you/ ’Cause every day you stand to lose/ ’Till you’re just someone I once knew.”
A casual listen to this record, hearing it in the background as you do something else, will reveal just voice and guitar playing slow country-tinged folk rock. Yes, yes, very nice, nothing special. But turn off the lights, turn up the volume, or put on some headphones, and a world unfolds.
On the album track “Sight Unseen,” which features as large an ensemble as any on this set, noise guitar and plinky piano intermingle with cello, bass, acoustic percussion, studio effects and room noises, along with Missy’s multi-tracked, angelic voice, to create a rainy day soundscape to lay down and die for.
Players on Just Like Breathing include Steven on keyboards, bass, and guitars; Tim Mooney (ex-American Music Club) on drums and percussion; Leigh Gregory and Grant Miller (from SF ambient duo Mandible Chatter) on guitars; and Diana Senechal on cello.
For its musical craftiness and sublime beauty, for its vocal immediacy and lack of pretension, and for its lyrical poignancy, Just Like Breathing has more “Oh, fuck” and gives-me-chills moments than any record in recent memory. Five bites out of five.Rockbites ratings 5: life changing, 4: stunning, 3: captivating, 2: amusing, 1: annoying.
On her debut album, Just Like Breathing, San Francisco singer-songwriter Missy Roback weighs in with the kind of pensive, literate sweetness that heretofore seemed the sole domain of Aimee Mann. Roback’s is a layered, moody blend of folk-pop that steers wide of most predictable alt-singer/songwriter fare. “Sight Unseen” and “Take It Back” are a pair of ruminative beauties wrapped in escalating, atmospheric production courtesy of Missy’s husband, Steven Roback (formerly of ’80s paisley underground heroes Rain Parade). And Missy’s unobtrusively earnest vocals and songwriting are the perfect foil for her husband’s production touches, which add enough of an ethereal quality to the proceedings without losing the songs in the haze. “Compass,” meanwhile, is a drop-dead gorgeous number bolstered by an almost back-porch instrumental feel, with sweet electric guitar noodlings weaving in and out of acoustic guitar, cello, and drums which are dealt only glancing blows. This is a subtle and fragile album with a deceptively strong pulse. Players on Just Like Breathing include Steven (keyboards, bass, and guitars), Tim Mooney (American Music Club) on drums and Diana Senechal on cello. — Erik Hage
Singer/songwriter Missy Roback has a gem of a pop record in her debut Just Like Breathing. Producer/husband Steven Roback (formerly of the Rain Parade and Viva Saturn) gives her a sparkling, folkish backdrop, with gently distorted electric guitars, lush acoustic guitars, tasteful percussion, warm keyboards and melodic basslines framing her intimate vocals. But the greatest virtues of this platter are the songs themselves. Roback explores the exquisite pain of heartbreak in “Nearest Star,” “Take It Back,” and “Compass,” breathes the refreshing air of forgiveness in “The Only One” and picks at the raw wound of betrayal in the title track. She celebrates the positive aspects of human relationships in the tender, loving “Blue-Eyed Baby,” but mostly she dwells on the troublesome side of this thing called love. With her lovely voice and her husband’s immediately appealing accompaniment delivering the bad news, it sounds like she’s working through it, though. Rotten love never sounded so good. — Michael Toland
For fans of Aimee Mann, Marti Jones, Ken Stringfellow
Entertainment News & Reviews
There could probably be a no more descriptive title for this charming debut by Missy Roback. Indeed, Roback’s breathy vocals and hypnotic harmonies are as soothing and gentle as the breath of life itself. With husband Steven Roback (one-time leader of the hugely influential West Coast combo Rain Parade) supplying the swirling psychedelic tapestry that cushions these songs, Roback opts for a soft, supple sound that stays consistent throughout this eleven-song set. So while there’s little variation in the mood or tempo, the album as a whole creates an ethereal ambiance that effectively establishes her style. Dreamy yet dramatic, her breathy vocals provide a soothing caress that soars in sync with Steven’s cosmic trappings, particularly on songs like “Lady Don,” “Sight Unseen,” “Compass,” and “Nearest Star,” some of the loveliest tracks the album has to offer. Slight variations come in the form of Missy’s big ballad, “Take It Back,” and the lilting “Blue-Eyed Baby,” a tune that takes on slight countryish overtones.
Just Like Breathing is one of those albums that may not necessarily take hold immediately. With its ethereal atmospherics, it tends to have more of a hypnotic effect as opposed to the more compelling effects that instant hooks and ready refrains can provide. Nevertheless, it’s an album that has more than its share of charm and pleasures. Just like breathing, it seems to come naturally. — Lee Zimmerman
With names like Steven Roback (Rain Parade) and Tim Mooney (American Music Club) in her liner notes, Missy Roback has the indie cred to stand out from the crowded field of alt-country chanteuses…. “Sight Unseen” starts with a quiet, eerie, pulsing effect, and also features cello and an intense electric guitar line. The song is neither country nor folk, but more like the dreamy melancholic pop that Steven’s Rain Parade partner David Roback (musical family, these Robacks) made in Mazzy Star. It also features some of the disc’s finest singing. When Roback croons, “Sometimes it seems we trade our dreams for safer means,” it’ll break your heart. And then there’s “Just Like Breathing,” a piano-driven gem that, despite featuring rather simplistic chording, is haunting, powerful and unique. A final highlight is the disc’s closer, the mournful “Sleep with the Mermaid,” in which another very interesting effect (listen to this one on your headphones) is layered with straightforward slow guitar strum and impassioned singing. Missy overdubs several beautiful vocal lines, and in fact sounds like a siren who’s sure to lure many sailors to wonderful destruction. — J. Berk
Tone and Groove
You have to be patient with this record. Missy Roback sings in a nice but understated murmur, about 3/4 Aimee Mann and 1/4 Nina Gordon which, at first, does not exactly command attention. The music itself is equally subtle, but often to the point of inconspicuousness. And for anyone who wishes to quickly categorize (and thus ignore) things, about half of these songs could be quite easily classified as alt.country (“Take It Back,” “Compass,” “Blue-Eyed Baby”) or folk-pop (“Lady Don,” “New Britain”), pretty-enough examples of things which are nevertheless not exactly in short supply. Let this album take its time and sink in, though, and it reveals things that are not obvious at first. Husband Steven Roback’s (of the ’80s band The Rain Parade) production, especially on the slower songs (“Sight Unseen,” “Nearest Star,” “Sleep With The Mermaid”), is reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’ work on the more recent Emmylou Harris records, quiet and unhurried but densely atmospheric, with murky guitar feedback sneaking into the background at unexpected times. Most of the lyrics here read like post-relationship reflections, but Missy’s uneasy, fragile vocals always sound as if she is just on the brink of tears. The result then, if you stick with it, is haunting and surprisingly unsettling. — Jer Fairall
With her clear, velvety voice steeped in emotion and yearning, Missy Roback easily draws comparisons to Aimee Mann or Margot Timmins of Cowboy Junkies. She sings with such enviable grace and ease. As well, there’s quite a few things in common with the recent debut from fellow-SFer Snowy (aka Bonni Evensen). Apart from the striking vocal similarities, there’s also the presence of Steve Roback (ex-Rain Parade) and Tim Mooney (ex-American Music Club) on her team — handling the production and mix duties, respectively, as well as playing a number of the instruments — not to mention that this, too, is a polished, impressive debut. She blends the sounds of swirling chamber pop, ghostly psych-twang, and maybe even some ’60s girl group balladry thrown in for good measure. The result? A lovely album that’s refined, self-assured and composed. Hannah Marcus guests on the title track.
New Britain Herald
Oct. 18, 2002
The real truth is that had no idea that the Missy Roback CD I was listening to was the Missy Archacki album.
I tell you this because I want you to understand that I had some critical distance the first few times I listened to this fabulous new CD before I realized it had been created by someone I knew. So I’ll start with the album.
It’s called Just Like Breathing, and it’s an evocative, atmospheric, lovely, contemplative piece of work. The songs rock gently, and the lyrics explore the plight of broken hearts, the magnetic appeal of secret passions, the true distance of old hometowns and the succor of sweet dreams.
Archacki is a gifted songwriter and a singer with a delivery as heartfelt as it is true. She reminds me a bit of Aimee Mann, who explores the deep recesses of the heart while keeping a weary, ironic eye on the rest of the world. You might not find it in your local record store, but you can find out more by going to www.hearkittyrecords.com.
The third time through this engaging disk, I finally cracked the liner notes and even the photos didn’t give it away. Instead it was the song entitled “New Britain.” Who? I asked myself.
So I dug deeper, and saw the name of guitarist Grant Miller, an old friend from WWUH. Now the name began to ring bells.
Missy. Of course, Missy. Then I looked at the picture more closely. It was Missy, Missy Archacki — though she was now Missy Roback.The last time I saw her, her hair was a fluorescent shade of orange. And here she was looking stylish and hip, and adult.
I met Missy at WWUH, where she was a student and I was a community volunteer. She was quirky, creative, a writer, and as I found out, from my hometown. We shared interest in similar music, and when she went off to San Francisco to pursue a career as a writer I even connected with her (and with Grant), on a visit to the city for a burger at the now-defunct Hamburger Mary’s.
Missy is still a writer. She’s married to a rock musician who achieved some fame as a member of Rain Parade, and he’s helped her produce an album that shows a new depth to her creativity. I’m still listening to it, and discovering new musical ideas and lyrical hooks. I’d like it even if I didn’t know Missy. —Ed McKeonEd McKeon hosts a folk and roots radio show each Wednesday from 6 to 9 a.m. on WWUH, 91.3 FM (wwuh.org).
I’ll admit to being a bit biased in this review. Missy and her husband/producer Steven Roback were kind enough to let me use one of the tracks from this CD on my last issue’s compilation disc. That song, “Sleep with the Mermaid,” which closes this album, got a lot of positive reader/listener response. I’m happy to tell you that if you enjoyed the Mazzy Star-meets-Aimee Mann sound of that track, you’ll be delighted with this sterling collection of 11 gentle melodic folk rock gems. Missy has a perfect voice for radio, if radio still played real music: a warm and cool clear high instrument. She’s also a fine songwriter, penning all of the tracks here except one, which she wrote with Steven. The sound is impeccable, with engineering by Tim Mooney (ex-American Music Club). This is one of the most dreamily lovely releases to bloom under the Americana banner in many moons, but it will appeal to the mellower end of the space rocker spectrum equally as well. — George Parsons
Miles of Music
Blessed with a sinuous voice, Roback makes an impressive splash on her debut CD. The well-crafted yet simple arrangements provide an appropriate setting for her evocative lyrics — the songs have a touch of country and folk, but mostly veer toward a sophisticated, atmospheric pop sound. The result is one of 2002’s most pleasant surprises, one that offers new rewards upon each listen. Highlights include the title track, “Sleep With The Mermaid,” “Compass,” and “Take It Back.” By the way, Missy is the wife of ex-Rain Parader Steven Roback, who produced and played on the CD; and since I’m dropping names, I’ll mention that American Music Club’s Tim Mooney also contributes percussion, mixing and engineering to the album. — Jim Catalano
Missy Roback’s debut was produced by her husband Steven Roback, who was once in Rain Parade. Her songwriting is all her own and the album’s airy sound is very pleasant. Missy Roback’s warm, husky voice has shades of Aimee Mann to it.
“Sight Unseen” has a sad story at its centre and gorgeously plaintive singing. The title track has lovely cello by Diana Senechal and a simple melody that suits it well. The intimate “Compass” is another good song of heartbreak. Roback never raises her voice, but the emotional impact is hardly lessened. She gets her point across anyway. By contrast “Blue-Eyed Baby” centres on a positive relationship. It’s a sweet country-flavoured song. The closing, hypnotic “Sleep with the Mermaid” is the best song, but the competition is fierce. A fine, fine album.
A haunting, beautifully lasting and, at times, stunning piece of work. — Bruce Brodeen
Hauntingly beautiful vocals are the centerpiece of this great collection of songs produced by Steven Roback of the band Rain Parade, part of LA’s Paisley Underground revival. Missy sings them with Aimee Mann-like lush harmonies over self-described “psychedelic alt-country” arrangements. It is a soft, yet unsettling style of emotional power that strikes the listener with great fullness.
Missy Roback’s album Just Like Breathing is acoustic-driven mellow pop that swims side by side in the same sea as Mazzy Star’s release Among My Swan. The acoustic rhythms set the tone of each song before Roback’s seductive vocals join to float along. She begins in her deep vocal ranges, pushing lower at the moment the listener expects them to rise. She saves herself until a moment of surprise when she changes things up for dramatic effect. Sparse, but lovely harmonies and an occasional touch of vocal distortion provide an accent to her fervent lyrics and unique expression.
One weakness of this work is the lack of dramatic choruses. A shift from mellow verses to a more melodic chorus adds dynamic and seems essential in this album. These dynamics can catch the ear when upbeat songs aren’t present. The electric guitar throughout the album adds a cool feel, however, that is rare for mellow female pop. This breeziness chases away the chance for monotony and makes this a successful work. Track six, “Compass,” with its standout rhythm and track two, “Lady Don,” are strong works of art for Missy to take pride in. The lyrics are poetic and the style is fun and sophisticated. — Keri L. Reed
This debut release from San Francisco’s Missy Roback has been compared by some to the likes of Emmylou Harris and Aimee Mann. Produced by husband and ex-Rain Parade founder Steve Roback, it does indeed have many qualities found within the classic female singer-songwriter tradition — a strong, articulate vocal relaying very honest and personal insights via well-crafted acoustic based songs. The key, then, to liking or loving this record is how you feel about the voice, and Roback’s is distinctive and crystal clear in delivery. For me, it’s quite cold and clinical whereas other critics describe it as “haunting and beautiful.” What does work, though, is that it fits this record’s subject matter perfectly with a majority of songs mostly being about emotional disconnection and the breakdown of relationships. The title track, “Just Like Breathing,” is a chilling piano-backed ballad about a partner’s affair that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Kate Bush or Tori Amos album. “Take It Back,” “Blue-Eyed Baby” and “The Only One” also tackle love and betrayal head-on with similar sparse and haunting accompaniment, whilst “Nearest Star” recounts the pain of terminal break. It never really lets up from these themes and collectively it comes across as a long late night heart-to-heart conversation between a couple whose relationship is severely on the rocks. When Roback’s not dealing with such raw issues it’s still uneasy listening — “New Britain” describes the feeling of displacement when returning home to a place you thought you’d left for good and the ghostly “Sleep With The Mermaid” seems to be about bereavement. The only time musically it shifts up a gear is on the catchy “Something Wrong,” but again it’s a tale of emotional turmoil. Throughout, the music is a subtle mix of psychedelic swirling guitars and keyboards, delicate strings and solid rhythm and it’s classy and well-produced. However, as stated earlier you’ll have to like the vocal style before you can fully immerse yourself in its melancholic content. I therefore recommend you visit her website and check out some of the MP3 samples and see what you think. It didn’t really do it for me but then again, neither does Emmylou Harris. Each to their own, I guess. — RB