Design By Humans
Published On: Mon, Aug 18th, 2014

Passenger: Whispers

(Black Crow Records)

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Within just a few years, Michael Rosenberg has gone from busking to enjoying success so great that one of his songs was featured in a Super Bowl ad. If following up the accomplishments of his last album, All the Little Lights, frightened Passenger, there’s no sign of that on Whispers.

From the start, it’s apparent that Rosenberg has refined his style after years on the road. “Coins In a Fountain” combines subtle strings and a funky beat, and the lyrics deal in big-picture stories rather than personal experience. Some of his metaphors may make you snicker (“Love is a baby born/Love is the last unicorn”), but his words feel earnest and tender. This track perfectly juxtaposes “27,” an upbeat catalog of the struggles and ambitions of Rosenberg’s life.

This sort of contrast appears throughout Whispers. Rosenberg is a fan of the tongue-twisting, speedy lyric, but it’s when he slows down that he really shines. “Golden Leaves” captures the conflict of a relationship (“Can’t live with you, but I die without”), but there is a beauty in his melancholy. The title track also starts out with that quiet delivery and gorgeous string accompaniment, but like the end of patience, the song builds to shouted defiance.

Perhaps the most moving song on the record is “Riding to New York,” inspired by Rosenberg’s real encounter with a man who was smoking. As the song unfolds, the listener learns that the man has lung cancer and intends to visit his family and see his wife’s grave again before he dies, even if he has to ride a bike or walk there. It’s a fragile story that Rosenberg treats with respect rather than layering on instrumentation or sentiment, and so much the better. Here Passenger shows that with Whispers he has become quite the writer and one to watch for years to come.

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Passenger: Whispers