Brittany Jean and Will Copps are a tough act to place. Jean brings emotive songwriting that often springs from an acoustic guitar, while Copps brings swirling waves of electronics to the sound. The result is Places, an album that defies genre conventions in a completely satisfying way.
I suppose it’s easiest to start at the most recognizable and work to the least. “How Is the Weather?” features Jean’s voice and guitar-based songwriting in a quiet tune reminiscent of Wye Oak’s work. There’s a lot of tension swirling around, both in the forefront and the background: that tension is an element that persists through the record, whether it’s Jean or Copps leading.
Copps leads opener “Sandbridge,” a song that relies heavily on giant synth washes, Jean’s soaring vocals, and intricate production more than the very interesting guitar line. By the middle of the track, even Jean’s impressive pipes are disappearing into the wall of synths and beats; it creates a deeply moving sense of something (an emotion, a place, a group) larger than self engulfing you. Sandbridge is an actual place by an ocean; the duo evocatively represents the tune’s namesake with the music and the sound of waves in the outro.
But it’s in those tunes where Copps and Jean genuinely share the space that things get most impressive. “Beneath the Crest of the Sea” balances a complex, subtle production job with another towering vocal line to create an oddly comforting fusion of machine and human sounds. “The Fall,” the most tense song on the whole album, also pulls off that meshing neatly. That sense of relaxation and calm is remarkable, considering that this is tension-filled, dramatic music–it’s just another threshold that the two artists deftly navigate.
The overall effects of Places are many: the sound is immediately engaging, but the album rewards multiple listens as well. Songs like “Neighborhoods” and “The Smoke/The Snow” can be appreciated on many levels, from the found sounds to the beats to the overall vibe. For only two performers who play a limited number of instruments, Brittany Jean and Will Copps have created an impressively sweeping album. Places is the sort of record that I can see listening to in a ton of different settings for a lot of different reasons. Creating work with interpretative flexibility is tough; creating things that flex while still remaining interesting and innovative is even harder. Highly recommended.