Thursday, March 03, 2011

Brown Recluse: Evening Tapestry

Brown Recluse
Evening Tapestry
Rating: 3.7/5.0
Label: Slumberland Records


It took Brown Recluse about five years since their formation to release their first full length - practically a lifetime in these days of home studios and computer programs that can turn almost any doof into a poor man's Steve Albini. A pair of brief-but-promising EPs, Black Sunday and The Soft Skin, hinted at what the Philadelphia-based band was capable of, generating a bit of local buzz while, between those releases, the group eventually expanded from the duo of Timothy Meskers and Mark Saddlemire to include several more members. Whether it's categorized as indie-pop, chamber-pop, dream-pop, psych-pop or whatever-pop, the group's debut effort, Evening Tapestry, is a wonderfully crafted, instrumentally layered album that suggests its long gestation period was well worth it.

Perhaps the record's most noticeable trait is that it doesn't exhibit any of the flaws sometimes associated with debut albums; there are no painfully juvenile lyrics, ignoble musical fuckups or streams of influence-imitating garbage. The care that went into making these songs sound a certain way is evident. Keyboards, Farfisa organ and trumpet are used liberally throughout; on opening track "Hobble To Your Tomb," they're set to a crawl and used to shape the song's fatalistic overtones, then sped up to a jaunty bounce on "Impressions of a City Morning" and "Golden Sun." Meskers' vocals practically float above the songs' arrangements, his voice frequently taking on a hazy, dreamlike quality, especially on "Statue Garden," "Wooden Fingers" and "At Last." Though Evening Tapestry's overarching style isn't exactly without precedent - shades of Stuart Murdoch sometimes creep into Meskers' delivery, and the way the instruments blend together are reminiscent of many things Elephant 6, especially the Olivia Tremor Control - the songs are quirky and catchy enough for that to be forgiven.

Though the album's overall vibe is primarily airy and breezy, its lyrics are quite the opposite. Tucked within these 11 pop songs are references to physical decay, "mangled flesh," bruises and bleeding - that's just the first track - as well as an arm cut on a fencepost and the resulting smears of blood. In other songs, Meskers' vocals focus heavily on weather systems and local geography, evoking an environment of city lights, taxies, summer rain and wind, crumbling statues and monuments, buses and nighttime descending on a hometown. It's a nice trick the way the singer's vocals contrast with the arrangements; indeed, this effect is so subtle that listeners might not realize they're hearing a pretty nihilistic song about being marched to a tomb until it's already lodged itself in the brain.

Evening Tapestry occasionally falters when its sound becomes too uniform - a nagging sense of redundancy lingers on both "Summer Showers" and "Paisley Tears" - but mostly it's a tight, concise album full of clever musical and lyrical ideas that are usually executed quite well without any indie pretensions or indulgences. The band took their time in releasing it, and for the better, but here's hoping the next full length comes along sooner than 2016.

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