Generally, when a student begins hawking their own independently produced album on their Facebook profile, it is an indication to avoid that CD at all costs. But in the case of University of Wisconsin student Miles Comiskey and his newest album, Notes of Life, it may actually be a legitimate stepping stone to something larger. With acoustic sounds and vocal maturation incredibly surprising for a 19-year-old, Comiskey produces the sort of music you expect to listen to in the background while doing homework, slowly drawing you in with its captivating simplicity and heartfelt vocals.
The first track, “All I’ve Found is You,” immediately demands the attention of a first-time listener with simple strumming and smooth vocals rather reminiscent of Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile. The track showcases an impressive level of vocal range and control. “All I’ve Found is You” seems to set the stage for an album you will want to enjoy more than once.
From then on Comiskey meanders between various aspects of folksy, acoustic and indie genres. “Heart Opens Wide” could easily have come straight off a John Mayer album, while “Beyond Myself” has a vaguely ethereal feel to its soulful construction. Perhaps the point being that, while Notes on a Life has a commercial sound similar to John Mayer or Jack Johnson, it also has the variety to be distinct and maintain the listener’s engagement.
The album’s variety is due in part to the miscellany of instruments Comiskey can play, including guitars, violin, mandolin, piano, banjo and more, according to his website. All of the songs, including their array of instrumentation were written, produced and recorded by Comiskey — with the exception of the drums on a single track. This is no small feat for a UW student who is also a member of The Madhatters, the campus all-male a cappella group. With so many talents to draw on, this musician will likely forever be evolving as his music improves with age, or so we hope.
But if faults lie within this album they pertain to Comiskey’s lyrics, which have not quite matured in the same way as his vocals and instrumental capabilities. “Beyond Myself,” for example, contains the lyrics, “Looking out, beyond myself, entranced by dancing leaves/ I’m alive, surrounded by the colors of the deceased/ I find beauty in it all,” which could come right from the narration of that creepy kid in “American Beauty” and reads like the existential writings of a teenage poet. Perhaps Comiskey started experiencing writer’s block halfway through the album’s production, because the quality of the tracks does seem to taper as the album progresses. Nevertheless, the overall quality remains superb.
Notes of Life is available for download on Miles’ website, www.milescomiskey.com. Ten percent of all CD profits will be donated to Kiva.org, a micro-financing credit organization based in the United States but operating in undeveloped equatorial regions worldwide. His previous album, The Scenic Route, is also available on his website and iTunes.
4 stars out of 5