Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Brasstronaut's lush piano and brass instruments create magic

February 12, 2010

I’m not very rock’n’roll any more. In fact, I wonder if I ever was at all. I grew up on pop-punk, but only because it was hyperactive. The rebellion was packaged with it, but to me it was the free toy in the cereal box that you looked at a couple times and then threw away. I have lived a pretty rebellion-free life, other than low-grade cultural rebellions like not watching TV, biking places instead of driving, and wearing Vans without being a skateboarder.

Thus, it make sense that I have turned my focus away from the raging paeans to youth and fixed it squarely on less rambunctious music. Other than absolutely incredible rock albums (like The Felix Culpa’s Sever Your Roots, which I covered extensively yesterday), I prefer mellow, melodic, instrument-heavy music. At this rate, I will someday like classical music. May it never be.

I came to realize this truth about myself during Brasstronaut’s “Hand Behind.” The second track off their album Mt. Chimaera, it features an absolutely gorgeous horn line that is expertly played. The trumpeter knows what he’s doing, and it’s the icing on Brasstronaut’s expertly-crafted indie rock. Brasstronaut dominates their sound with lush piano, low bass lines, lots of brass and wind instruments and tight but spare drumming. The guitar mostly swoops around for atmosphere, and kudos to him for not getting in the way of the sound. If the guitarist contributed any more to the sound, the elegant, stately flow would have been significantly diminished.

And that elegant, stately flow continues through the entire album. From beginning to end, Brasstronaut plays with a confidence and passion that makes even fast, choppy songs like “Lo Hi Hopes” feel much more important and lofty than other bands’ work. It helps that this album is immaculately recorded; listened to on good speakers, it feels like Brasstronaut is in the room with you.

The only detriments to this album come in songwriting choices. “Ravan” and “Same Same,” which are two of the most engaging tunes on the album, cover the otherwise excellent vocals in a totally unnecessary cloak of reverb, plucking the songs out of the flow of the album somewhat. Also, Brasstronaut often seems more like a chamber orchestra than a rock band in the amount of times they play riffs. They are content to only play riffs one or two times, leaving listeners longing for more. It is somewhat frustrating, especially considering how infectious the trumpet riff on “Same Same” is.

But there is a significant amount of pop influence as well; “Hearts Trompet” has a bouncy feel and a singable hook, as well as an epic buildup section that repeats a satisfying number of times. “Slow Knots” is a sinister break-up song that would fit perfectly on an indie movie. “Six Toes” is a joyful klezmer tune, complete with clarinet and quick piano keying. It’s one of the best tracks here, as the band gels perfectly and cranks out a tune that no one else could even imagine, much less pull off.

Brasstronaut’s Mt. Chimaera is an astoundingly mature release. The musicians are incredibly talented, the songwriting is polished, and their lush aesthetic is incredibly well-developed for a sophomore release and debut album. Brasstronaut knows what they want to sound like, and they actually sound like it. Mt. Chimaera is an absolute gem to listen to, and easily the most beautiful album I’ve heard so far this year. Brasstronaut’s clever, tight, melodic sound is absolutely fantastic, and I will be listening to this release long after I’m done reviewing it.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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