Monday, October 8, 2007

Have you heard the one about the Brunette?

I spent a lot of time during the Brunettes show last night thinking about a group of kids in high school, many of whom were in orchestra. They got together, ransacking the band room for anything they could scrounge. In somebody's rec room or maybe the garret above their garage, they made music with all of it: guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, woodwinds, xylophone, percussion things with indeterminate names... Of course, in my mental picture, as at the show - where Brunettes used at least one, and in most cases more than one of all those instruments - this was a really skilled group of kids, equally in love with fifties and sixties pop, who were looking quite a bit further than the school talent show.

In most cases, the live version of a Brunettes song sounds like it might have been the demo for what made it onto the record. That is in no way a denigration of their live show; there is an incredible DIY exuberance when they play live. Members regularly play two instruments at once, and occasionally two people play the same instrument during a song. At one point the drummer saw fit to play the vent above him instead of his snare. And all of it is completely infectious; they are having such a good time that it's completely your problem if you don't join them. (And I haven't even mentioned yet Jonathan Bree's opportunistic decision to perform from a cage on the bar's side wall, rather than the stage with the rest of the band.)

When they get around to recording these phenomena for commercial release, things get tightened up, instruments are changed, and a more unified whole emerges. Which is as it should be. But hearing the songs live, one is better able to appreciate them as the collages they are. Many Brunettes tracks end up nowhere near where they started, and may take several twists along the way. Again, that could be taken negatively, so I stress that it requires real sophistication to assemble that many musical ideas into a cohesive track. First single 'Her hairagami set', my favorite song from their new album Structure And Cosmetics, is a good example. Heather Mansfield sings a verse and a bridge, then another verse, but then in a different tempo Jonathan sings a different verse that might be a chorus. They go back and forth, and then there's a breakdown/interlude, with a different melody line, but it turns out it's not an interlude, because the song winds down.

That could be quite a train wreck; Queen and Tori Amos are the type of people who can make that work. Fortunately Brunettes can, too. Their live show presents their material in quite a different manner than their records, and you'll hear the recordings differently after hearing them live. Having met a nice couple at the show who were seeing them for the fourth time, I'm confident others feel the same way.

I don't know if this is a scoop or not, but Jonathan mentioned at the show that 'Small town crew' would be the second single from Structure And Cosmetics, with a video to be shot in the next few weeks.

Brunettes official website