You could be forgiven for coming into the year unaware of Julie Byrne. While her 2014 debut album Rooms with Windows and Walls found an enraptured audience, it didn't receive the fanfare the converted felt it deserved. In hindsight, however, it's only fair: enter, Not Even Happiness. Rarely, a seemingly pleasant artist doing pleasant things suddenly shoots into the stratosphere; whether it's potential being realized, moments coinciding in brilliant unison, it's hard to tell, but an undeniable result remains the same: you won't be forgiven – or likely, able – to leave the year still unaware.

Byrne's past effort was a minor masterpiece in atmosphere, perfect for lazy drifting bundled up at home, something she seemed readily aware of, if its title said anything. On Happiness, clarity of production and a focused, nuanced, and greatly sharpened songwriting joins the array of her inviting playing. Whereas she once allowed the listener to seek out their own space within her songs, this music feels confidently, deliberately, hers. When she practically mourns, “And yes, I have broke down, asking for forgiveness, when I was nowhere close to forgiving myself,” on show-stopping closer 'I Live Now as a Singer', you feel the weight in the words.

None of that is to say her craft has become less inviting. This is very much a morning record, ready to be embraced as one stumbles into thoughts of the earliest hours, as reality settles back in. The album offering one of the truly rare solvents that can make it all seem, well, ok. If Byrne can make sadness seem so gentle and inviting, what's to worry over?

It is, after all, an album of subtly clawing sadness. She doesn't open with lines such as, “ I consciously died,” and “To me this city's hell...but I know you call it home,” for nothing: these serve as a mission statement. Loneliness, searching for belonging, the aforementioned undeserved forgiveness – it's a wistful affair, to say the least. It's tempting to read into intentional ambiguity, but shards here and there feel like the downfall of a relationship, including mentions of a first meeting on 'Natural Blue'. If so, she hardly casts herself as the victim, declaring right away, “I have been called heartbreaker, for doing justice to my own.”

There is empowerment in her sadness – it never feels dreary or hopeless, having an effect far more akin to Just Another Diamond Day than something Beth Gibbons might write. It's tempting to even think of it as a musical paradox: Byrne has let us feel quite comfortable at home in her fears and struggles, acting out a minor tragedy that leaves the listener feeling nothing less than content.

This almost leaves the listener with the feeling of having purloined something valuable. To return once more to the final track, she seems to be consciously taking on the idea: what is she, living as a singer? She's made a salve, giving us her darkest moments, letting us leave something from our own in return. How has she made a feeling of fading hope allow us to leave revitalized? What right do we even have to pillage her memory? It's all quite a lot to pose, a great deception in seemingly warm, embracing folk. However she managed it, whatever we will take from it as it settles, delving further past its placid surface into its cavernous mystery will surely remain one of the year's earliest true pleasures.