Brzowski will Sleep when he's dead

Too old to die young
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  June 15, 2011

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FAR UNDERGROUND Brzowski’s street poetry comes from deep in the gut.

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What you need to know about Brzowski in a nutshell: Not only does he understand that "myriad" is an adjective, and not a noun requiring a preposition, but he mines the Upanishads for samples. In a genre like underground hip-hop, where intellectualism is somewhat taken for granted, almost cliché, Portland's hardest-working MC takes his mantle as street poet more seriously than most.

I've said it with every album of his I've reviewed — solo full-length, mix-tape, EP with Moshe — but there is no one who creates denser songs. I'll never understand how he remembers the words when he performs them live. Each verse is a rabbit hole down which you can easily get lost in allusions and turns of phrase.

In the past, there's been some question as to whether people would actually enjoy being sprayed with that firehose of prose, but with his second proper album, the new A Fitful Sleep, Brzowski has embraced the structure of the rock song quite firmly, delivering digestible choruses that give even less-invested listeners something to which to hold tight.

It's not just the structure, though. From distorted guitar sound to Molly Hatchet swagger, Brzowski embraces this rock vibe and aesthetic just as he busts into crazed, almost panicked, rap. By opening the album with a boom-bip start, then moving quickly into a crunchy guitar and grimy singing on "Own," he almost seems to be disowning traditional hip-hop notions, like he's disinterested in the genre.

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Really, it's not until "The Birding," the album's penultimate song, where you get something that's danceable in a hip-hop way. It has an undeniable drive to it, pushing forward as he declares, "I never met a carpenter I didn't resent," possibly because "I never built a damn thing." This combination of Agent8 production (the two are a longstanding team) and Brzowski guitar is maybe closest to the album's signature sound.

Along the way, though, Brzowski displays an affinity for plenty of other genres. He shows pop-rock chops on the very listenable "The Tourist," a head-nodder with a pretty little guitar hook behind the verse. Then on "Travelogos" he goes old-time R&B, getting production help from Chris Mick with an Ohio Players style, a live beat from Todd Richard, and a grimy guitar turn from Leif Sherman Curtis, which is mixed right on top of elegant flute-synths.

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Though Brzowski can be opaque, he may here be referencing his recent travels through Europe plying his trade: "Stop the world, I think I wanna get off somehow." Why? "The natives are belligerent."

Actually, though, he's been well received overseas, and it's no wonder. His delivery is as important as his lyrical content, and the songs are easy to enjoy even if you're not a native English speaker. They might even be more enjoyable that way — you at least won't find yourself straining to figure out what the hell he's talking about.

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