Listen: Brighten Up

The fruit of the estimable labors of one Dan Smith and one Justin Bean, Chicago Illinois’ Brighten Up is a sonic tundra of tribal drums, prerecorded samples and washy keyboard parts distorted beyond recognition. And much like the tundra, this experimental duo’s music is an austere, inaccessible force of nature and noise–which still offers occasional glimpses of living warmth: beneath the tightly regimented electro-noise, there’s a human element that sets Smith and Bean far ahead of their contemporaries. And while this description might suggest to some an awful din of electro-pretense best left in the garage, Brighten Up pulls off their act with elan–due in no small part to their churning, hypnotic live performances.

Live, most of Brighten Up’s songs build a bed of looping electronic swells or sampled beats, while Smith and Bean bang out contrapuntal rhythms and melodies on everything from entry-level synthesizers to broken cymbals to clattering drum sets, at one point, even running a vocal mic into a Marshall stack to build thick, distorted textures over their lock-step electronic grooves. It’s this extra level of complexity that sets Brighten Up apart from the hordes of disappointing buzzword noise bands clogging up the music world. Rather than just pumping out a one-dimensional wash of noise and calling it a song, Brighten Up trades in dynamic drone pieces that marry the epic build of post-rock to the dense composition of IDM, complemented by a handcrafted roughness that recalls early My Bloody Valentine.

While Brighten Up may not be the first band to bring experimental electronics to the live stage, the Chicago duo does the half-man-half-machine act so well, it’s nearly impossible to tell which half is which–and that’s no mean feat.  Even live, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s Smith, Bean, or their towering array of samplers and keyboards that are making any particular sound; Bean and Smith are sequencer-tight, and cook up sounds from analog instruments (including antiquated contraptions like drums and guitars) so nasty, they sound like 2001‘s HAL9000 getting the Hostel treatment.

Dystopian Utopia, Brighten Up’s debut EP (available for free here) captures most of these sounds and a few others from the magic bag of studio trickery. And while Dystopian Utopia oozes promise, it’s nothing compared to the live show this duo puts on. Hearing the fruits of Smith and Bean’s efforts is all well and good (and Dystopian Utopia would even be worth paying for) but it’s got nothing on watching them tweak samples, bash out complicated counter-rhythms, and conjure up howling squalls of noise. Brighten Up is a band that needs to be seen to be believed.

Check Out:

“Praying and Weeping”


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