REVEL IN THE LO-FI Brenda.
From Extendo-Ride to Cult Maze to their latest incarnation, Brenda, there has never been any doubt about the songwriting capabilities of Peet Chamberlain and Josh Loring. Their witty indie pop has been tantalizing many of us in these environs for nearly a decade with smart hooks, dynamic changes in tempo and direction, and interesting turns of phrase.
"Tantalizing" because they never seem quite to be able to put it all together into an undeniably great work that would move them from songwriters with potential to important performers and recording artists. Just as Cult Maze released 35, 36, a sophomore record that seemed to indicate a band with gravitas had arrived, the group dissolved and long-time bandmate and Cult Maze frontman Jay Lobley moved on to form Metal Feathers.
So now we have Silver Tower, the debut work from Brenda, a continuing collaboration between Loring and Chamberlain, produced by Lobley, with DJ Moore (Awesome, Daro) on drums. And much like the Cult Maze debut, audiophiles are going to have to get past issues of buried vocals and some muddy production in the way of songs that are desperate to shine through.
Sure, it's in the lo-fi tradition, you might find yourself thinking, but does it absolutely have to sound like Sonic Youth playing underwater? There are times when the drums sound like DJ Moore is pounding on a cardboard box, and his fills sometimes lose steam just because he's getting farther away from the mic. The heavily reverbed guitar solo of sorts in "Retina" is quickly drowned out by a throbbing organ sound, like a wave crashing through a sand castle.
But take the headphones off. Relax. Revel in the jangledy guitars, melody provided by strummed chords that build and wash away and crescendo yet again. Feel the early-Springsteen punch of the staccato guitars in the open of "Delegator" "all the way up into your spine"; ride the pace of "Ghandi" as Moore shoots it forward and then staggers it back; let the frantic pace of "Pill Hill" have its way with you in its almost upstroke: "If you decide to stay here, try to postpone your flight/You could get lost on the taxi ride."
Which is exactly right: Don't get lost on the way to the finish. If you mind the details here, listening for flat vocal notes or perfect guitar tone, you miss out on the bigger picture, the way Brenda play with pop sensibilities (every song sits between 2:52 and 3:38 in length) and deliver something just slightly different than what your brain has trained you to expect of verse-chorus structure or extended instrumental breaks. Listen while you're mowing the lawn and see if you can manage to avoid strutting up and down the yard to Loring's sneering bravado on "Shai Li Lai." Listen at the family picnic and nod when "Uncle Paul's got a new flame/She listens when he says nothing" (and then jump to your feet with the straight-ahead rock switch-up at the 2:20 mark, complete with four-note guitar peal).
Personally, I'd love to hear the melancholy-sweet open of "I'd Be Dead" sung by a pristine-voiced gal lead, but that just wouldn't be Brenda: she's no pin-up, or even the girl you take home to mom, but damn if she ain't sexy.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SILVER TOWER | Released by Brenda on Mckeenstreet Music | with Bear in Heave + Lobisomem | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | June 24 | mckeenstreetmusic/brenda.html