Band Name: Brian Amsterdam
Album Name: The Sore Score
Best Element: Consistent songwriting mood.
Genre: Indie Singer/Songwriter
Label Name: Aeria Records (www.aeriarecords.com)
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
While it is clear that Brian Amsterdam has a well-versed history in music, it is also clear that his album The Sore Score is a debut album. There are some shining moments, but there are also some mishaps that will most likely be ironed out with more practice as a songwriter.
The actual instrumentation of this album is the upside to this album. Based around an acoustic guitar, but not afraid to feature fuzzed-out electric guitar, electronics, reverbed electric guitar, or breakbeats behind it, Brian Amsterdam’s music has a rather unique stamp. Songs such as “Sidewalking” and “Waking Up (Equinox Mix)” clearly display that Amsterdam is an aspiring DJ in addition to being an indie-rock artist- the almost abrasive breakbeat in “Sidewalking” contrasts very nicely against the acoustic guitar, while the lush strings, bass, and fuzzed-out guitar of “Waking Up (Equinox Mix)” form a backdrop that ambles somewhere between trip-hop and shoegazer.
There are simple songs (the melancholic guitar/vocals shuffle of “Silence Kills”) and complex ones (the indie-techno groove-lite of “Spiders); fast ones (the bouncy, dance-infused “See You Soon”) and slow ones (the standout “Farms + Arms”) and everything in between (the booming “You Didn’t Lose” and the delicate, intricate “I Give Up”).
The album has a lot of consistency in its songwriting, as the songs flow well with one another- it’s very easy to set this on ‘play whole album’ and just chill. In this manner, Amsterdam owes a lot to Beck- the same mid-fi production ideals, the same laid-back, “anything goes” musical attitude, and the same deceptive musical maturity. Amsterdam’s musical maturity is highly refreshing in songs such as “Farms + Arms” and “Don’t Sleep Tonight”- songs that could’ve gone wrong with too much tweaking, but were allowed to stay a little underproduced, adding an extra bit of charm.
The downside to this album is Amsterdam’s vocals. The quality of Amsterdam’s voice is a little bit too haphazard throughout the album, and his vocals frequently detract from otherwise enjoyable songs. The doubled vocals on “Farms + Arms” fit in perfectly with the song, making it the standout track on the album, but the very next song “You Didn’t Lose” has a repetitive vocal line that never quite has the emotional punch it aims for- it comes off as whiny and lame. Ballads “Silence Kills” and “Don’t Sleep Tonight” don’t get enough strength behind the vocals, turning them into crooning messes. It’s not so much the tone of Amsterdam’s vocals as it is the way he sings- in the pumping “Sidewalking”, he opens with a sinister, dark, forceful vocal line that fits perfectly. Once he starts getting more melodic with the vocal line, it all goes awry, as he doesn’t put enough force behind the vocals and it starts to sound unconfident, whiny, and unprepared.
It’s a tragedy that Amsterdam’s main flaw comes in an area that many people view as the most important aspect of the singer/songwriter genre, as his songwriting is unique and admirable. There are songs on here that are genuinely the entire package- but most of the songs on this album fall a little bit short of the mark. If you like Beck and don’t mind weak vocals, Brian Amsterdam’s The Sore Score is a must-buy. If you’re a little more discerning as a listener, you may want to wait until further releases from Amsterdam to get into his sound. He has a bright future ahead of him, as soon as he polishes his sound a little bit.