Brightblack Morning Light
Volcano (2003, 45.04) ***/T
Oo La La
I'd Be Surprised
Songs We Used to Sing
Once in a Blue Moon
More Than Friends
|The One Who Went Away
Take a Walk
Not Saying Goodbye
Came a Long Way
What Would You Do
Edie Brickell (2010, 42.47) ***/T
|Give it Another Day
Been So Good
2 o'Clock in the Morning
On the Avenue
Waiting for Me
You Come Back
|It Takes Love
Edie Brickell shot to fame in the late '80s with the New Bohemians, leaving after two albums, marrying Paul Simon two years later. After her solo debut, 1994's Picture Perfect Morning, 2003's Volcano is only her second album on her own and is pretty much what you'd expect; laid-back, acoustic-based singer-songwriter stuff with the occasional jazzy edge, not a million miles from an updated version of her husband's work in the '70s. To be honest, most of it slid by me without really impingeing itself on my consciousness until the very last track, What Would You Do, which features probably the best lyric and tune on the record; it was certainly the only one that made me sit up and take any notice. Mellotron on the title track from Charlie Sexton, with a nice, real-sounding string part, though that's that, I'm afraid.
After another New Bohemians record and Edie's collaboration with hubby's son, Harper, as The Heavy Circles, her eponymous 2010 release is business as usual, better tracks including 2 O'Clock In The Morning and It Takes Love. Again, I find her slower numbers work better than the upbeat stuff, but perhaps that's just me. Sexton returns on Mellotron, while David Boyle adds Chamberlin, with cello, flute and string parts on It Takes Love, although it's near-impossible to untangle the sounds enough to work out what plays what.
See: The Heavy Circles
Motion to Rejoin (2008, 49.16) **½/T
A Rainbow Aims
|Past a Weatherbeaten Fencepost
When Beads Spell Power Leaf
Are Brightblack Morning Light 'slowcore'? 2008's Motion to Rejoin (apparently recorded using just solar power) is one of the slowest, most laid-back (in a thoroughly non-MOR kind of way) albums I've heard in a while. Some people will say, "Muted beauty", while others are more likely to go for, "Dreary old tosh"; I'm not quite sure where my loyalties lie, although I had considerable trouble engaging with the record in any meaningful way. Maybe it should be ten minutes shorter? It does seem to go on forever, doubtless due to its sluggish pace.
On the Mellotron front, producer Matt Henry Cunitz apparently plays his studio M400, but I can't say it's that apparent, not helped by his use of an Orchestron. Gathered Years has faint background flutes, while A Rainbow Aims has a more upfront part plus MkII brass, although it really doesn't sound like a Mellotron. So; very slow music that has trouble sustaining the (or at least this) listener's interest, with very little Mellotron. Next...
Brighteye Brison (2003, 57.47) ***/TIntroduction
One Year Alone
I) Aspects From Newborn Eyes
II) Correct Information
III) Music of the City
IV) My Spirit Will Speak
Take Good Care of My Heart
Stories (2006, 52.05) ***½/TTT½
The Battle of Brighteye Brison
|We Wanna Return
Believers & Deceivers (2008, 68.01) ****/TTT½Pointless Living
After the Storm
The Grand Event
The Magician Chronicles - Part I (2011, 43.44) ***/TT
|The Rise of Brighteye Brison
The Magician's Cave
Mind Fire Menace
V (2019, 66.52) ***½/TT½The Crest of Quarrel
The Magician Chronicles - Part II
Dante's Paradiso: The Divine Comedy, Part III (2010) ***½/T[Brighteye Brison contribute]
Under Ornens Vingur
Brighteye Brison are a newish Swedish prog outfit, taking their influences from several areas, including the 'modern prog' of Spock's Beard et al., '80s neo-prog and the 'intelligent pop' of the Beatles/Beach Boys, with hints of Saga and various widdly guitar merchants in places, too. Less Änglagård than A.C.T, anyway. While it has its strong points, Brighteye Brison has several failings, too, not least the vocals, which are not only not very good, but frequently out of tune, particularly in the harmony sections. The quality of the material varies wildly, many impressive moments subverted by mediocrity; defeat all too often snatched from the jaws of victory. Änglagård's Mattias Olsson was involved on the recording side, although I believe Brighteye's keyboard player Linus Kåse actually played the minimal Mellotron parts on the album. All I can hear are a brief string part in Music Of The City, part three of the lengthy One Year Alone, ending in a pitchbend so drastic that it sounds like someone's leaning on the flywheel (is that you, Mattias?) and another brief burst of strings in A Car. The faint, background choirs on part four, My Spirit Will Speak, are more likely to be Orchestron, which I understand Mattias also provided for the band's use; to my knowledge, they took the largely-completed album to his Roth-Händle studio for 'treatments'.
2006's Stories is a lot better than their debut, which isn't to say it's that good, just better, with tracks of the quality of Patterns or All Love being slightly scuppered by a top-notch IQ impersonation on We Wanna Return and an irritating tendency to border AOR and/or generic neo-prog territory too closely in places. The album isn't overlong as such, but slicing a few minutes of unnecessarily-copycat material might have both tightened the album up and improved it. Kåse's Mellotron use is considerably greater than on their debut, all but the album's two shortest tracks featuring it somewhere. You can hear the strings clearly at the end of Patterns and there's a nicely upfront flute part opening Isolation, while Life Inside doubles Mellotron church organ with choirs, to pleasing effect. I presume that's Mellotron cellos on All Love, with all other highlighted tracks tending to feature strings and choir.
Believers & Deceivers is another slight improvement, but I wonder if the band have peaked, or whether they're happy with their uncommercial 'commercial' symphonic direction. In fairness, this may have been what they've been aiming for these last few years and it isn't actually bad at all, just a little... safe, despite two very lengthy tracks. Two short(-ish) ones open the album, sounding like the better end of Stories (and is the Pink Floyd lyrical reference in After The Storm deliberate?), before they get stuck into the long-form stuff. The twenty-minute The Harvest isn't bad, but is rather outclassed by the near-thirty-five (!)-minute The Grand Event, probably the album's four star catalyst. The vocal gymnastics near the beginning pinpoint the Spock's Beard influence perfectly; even the title's reminiscent of some of their epic efforts and musical nods towards Gentle Giant are just as likely to be via The Beard's own appropriations. Reasonable amounts of Mellotron, although After The Storm is completely clear of it and The Grand Event goes for anything up to ten minutes at a time with no Mellotronic input, although there's a lovely Theremin part at one point. By and large, we're talking strings and choir again, although brief bursts of flutes and church organ appear on occasion, this time from Per Hallman.
I'm afraid I found 2011's The Magician Chronicles - Part I something of a retrograde step, in that the band's neo- tendencies take precedence for too much of its (very reasonable) length. For example, 'side-long' opener The Rise of Brighteye Brison starts promisingly, before shifting into a typical neo-proggish 'herky-jerky' rhythm, 'side two's two tracks both failing to have enough content for their length. Perhaps they needed more writing time? Restrained Mellotron use, from Hallman again, with strings around the nine-minute mark in The Rise Of Brighteye Brison, reiterating on and off, cellos appearing later on, while a Mellotron-and-vocal section at twenty minutes pretty much convinces me it's real. The other two tracks are somewhat lighter on the Mellotron front, with naught but faint choirs (are these actually Mellotron?) on The Magician's Cave and occasional strings on closer Mind Fire Menace.
After an eight-year wait (Kåse played with Änglagård for much of this time), 2019's V kicks off with more of a late '70s Genesis vibe, exacerbated by the (real?) Yamaha CP70 piano use, twelve-minute opener The Crest Of Quarrel sounding a little as Saga may have sounded, had they ever written anything genuinely long-form. The other two tracks, including the ridiculously overlong, near-forty-minute The Magician Chronicles - Part II, are closer to 'Scandic Spock's Beard' in their overblown symphonic moves. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but even getting within sniffing distance of that sound, twenty years later, is to lay one's cards rather too firmly on the table. Hallman's Mellotron's absent on the first track, but the strings kick in immediately on V itself, while the choirs turn up a few minutes into The Magician Chronicles - Part II, strings dipping in and out of the track across its considerable length.
Mundo, Demonio, Carne [a.k.a. World, Devil, Body] (1970, 47.12) ***½/TTMundo, Demonio, Carne
Vive la Realidad
Jenny, la Genio
Like so many of their contemporaries, Los Brincos started out as a mid-'60s beat group, shifting into prog/psych realms for 1970's Mundo, Demonio, Carne, also released in an English-language version as World, Devil, Body. It's a rather mixed album, veering between its lengthy, masterful title track and the excellent, Eastern-ish Kama-Sutra to the Spanish psych/pop of Vive La Realidad, the rock'n'roll of Jenny, La Genio or the balladry of Esa Mujer, although it mostly falls on the side of 'worthwhile'.
Oscar Lasprilla plays keys, including Mellotron, with a string part on the lengthy title track, background strings on Carmen and more upfront ones on Kama-Sutra, although the strings on Esa Mujer are real. This is an unexpected yet welcome find, far more sophisticated than it has any right to be, really, with three definite Mellotron tracks to boot. So where the hell did they find a Mellotron in Spain in 1970, anyway?
Meaningless (2000, 44.37) ****/TT½
|Gotta Start Somewhere
I Believe She's Lying
Ruin My Day
Walking Through Walls
Hook, Line and Sinker
Dead to the World
Sing Hollies in Reverse (1995, 7.52) ****/TTT[Jon Brion contributes]
Hard Eight [a.k.a. Sydney] (1996, 24.58) ***/TT½
|Cash to Tokens
Tokens to Cash
Sydney's Work Walk
Leaving the Motel
Leaving the City
|The Phone Call, Waiting for Jimmy
Sydney Doesn't Speak
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, 22.13) ***½/T
Howard Makes it All Go Away
|A Dream Upon Waking
The Strings That Tie to You
Down the Drain
I ♥ Huckabees (2004, 43.29) ***½/TTT
Knock Yourself Out
Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad
Over Our Heads
Wouldn't Have it Any Other Way
Huckabees Jingle (50's Version)
|True to Yourself
Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad (string quartet version)
Get What it's About
Monday (End Credits)
Known primarily as a sideman to the stars, Brion apparently has a long-running residency at the Largo, in L.A., where no two performances are ever the same, usually including his instrumental setup. Meaningless appears to be his first, long-overdue solo album, revealing him to be a deft writer of intelligent pop songs - rather like many of his clients, then. All the usual influences apply - you know, Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star, all the B's; it's hard to pick out highlights, but Her Ghost and the lengthy Voices are particularly impressive. Brion has a decent enough voice, although it's his playing that really stands out, the bulk of the instrumental work emanating from his fingers and the remainder coming from various Famous Friends.
Brion is, of course, a Chamberlin master, going as far as to include diagrams of its internal workings in the CD booklet, making it surprising that it's not immediately apparent on more tracks, unless, of course, I'm missing it in the mix. Again. Ruin My Day has some orchestral strings, which almost sound like the real thing in places, while Dead To The World features a muddy flute part before the cellos and violins return, with a superbly cheesy end section, not to mention the tremolo guitars... Her Ghost has polyphonic flutes, oboes (?) and sax, oh and strings - everything, really. Maybe he thought that smothering the album in it would be retro overkill. Well, it wouldn't - the tape-replay adds warmth and depth to the sound, which isn't to denigrate the rest of the tracks, but it might've been nice to have heard it a few more times.
Brion has also contributed to several film soundtracks and various artists efforts, including 1995's Sing Hollies in Reverse and the soundtracks to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I ♥ Huckabees, both from 2004. Links to full reviews are below; suffice to say, he does a good job on all, writing the entire score for the latter. So; Meaningless is an excellent album, assuming you like the style, with lovely Chamby work on a handful of tracks.
See: Fiona Apple | Murray Attaway | Badly Drawn Boy | T Bone Burnett | Nels Cline Singers | Jude Cole | Christina Courtin | Crystal Method | Eels | Marianne Faithfull | Peter Gabriel | Nina Gordon | Grant Lee Buffalo | Macy Gray | Grays | John Hiatt | Robyn Hitchcock | Lauren Hoffman | Indians | Mary Lou Lord | Love Spit Love | Taj Mahal | Eleni Mandell | Aimee Mann | Marjorie Fair | Brad Mehldau | Rhett Miller | The Mommyheads | of Montreal | Sam Phillips | Plain White T's | Miranda Lee Richards | Elliott Smith | Spoon | Taxiride | Rufus Wainwright | Kanye West | Wild Colonials | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | I ♥ Huckabees | Jerry Maguire | Pleasantville | Sing Hollies in Reverse | Mellodrama
Narrow Road (2001, 41.22) **½/T
Image to Image
We All Need to Pray
|Churches Over You
Californian Paula Brisker's Narrow Road is a passable Americana-flavoured pop/rock album, relatively inoffensive, while simultaneously rather dull, at its best on Little, Fly and Churches Over You. One of those albums about which it's very difficult to find anything much to say at all, possibly defining the term 'mediocre'.
Rami Jaffee plays Chamberlin, with chordal flutes on Your Love, alongside real cello, pre-dating his abandonment of genuine tape-replay, by the sound of it. Seriously not worth the effort for some 'yeah, whatever' Chamby use, though.
Steps From Beyond (1978, 34.38) ***½/TTSteps From Beyond (Part 1)
Steps From Beyond (Part 2)
Paul Brookes? No idea, frankly. Given that his sole album, 1978's Steps From Beyond, was released on a British label and his name sounds, well, quite British, I'm assuming he hailed from these sceptered isles, unless I should find otherwise. The album consists of two side-long instrumental electronic pieces, not unlike several French 'synth-disco' acts of the period, not least Space or the lesser-known Hydravion, although, in fairness, Part 2 tones the disco elements down somewhat.
Brookes plays Mellotron male choirs on both sides, more on the 'A' than the 'B', although it's more audible on the latter. Two 7"s came out around the same time, Stardancer b/w Time Lord and Julie's Theme b/w Steps From Beyond Part I, most of which seem to be album excerpts, with no new Mellotron parts. This is a real oddity; some of it's on YouTube, but the whole thing can be found on download sites. Worth the effort.
Spill Collateral Love (2007, 56.55) ***½/T
|Love on My Sleeve
Lathered in Cream
The Loon of Altitude
Hit Me Like a Smile
Katrina is a Bitch
Frances of Alaska
|The Sonic Twins
Pray for a Way to Say Goodbye
Brad Brooks' Spill Collateral Love sits at the baroque end of powerpop (thanks, Powerpopaholic), shifting between good, but slightly generic material (Lathered In Cream, The Loon Of Altitude, The Sonic Twins) and a more, well, baroque style (opener Love On My Sleeve, Manic Tourist, Pleading Amnesia), probably at its best on The Loon Of Altitude and Pleading Amnesia. Criticisms? The album's too long, partially due to several overlong tracks clustered near the beginning.
Matt Henry Cunitz plays his own M400, with background strings and cellos on Love On My Sleeve, all other strings parts being real. Worth the effort? Yes, I'd say; despite the album's mildly schizophrenic approach and excessive length, there's barely a bad track here.