Album Review: Brenda – Silver Tower

Brenda. Even Moms aren’t called Brenda anymore, and let’s try not to remember Beverly Hills 90210, shall we. But don’t let that put you off. This Brenda is three guys with an arresting debut album titled Silver Tower, on the admirable Mckeenstreet Music label. This Portland, Maine, trio consists of ex-Cult Maze duo singer-guitarist Joshua Loring and bass ‘n’ keys player Peet Chamberlain plus drummer DJ Moore. The band has also enlisted former Cult Maze band mate, Jay Lobely, now fronting Metal Feathers, to produce the record.

Brenda purveys indie guitar rock with a ‘90s lo-fi flavour amid a melting pot of sounds-like-your-favorite-band, yet with an individuality, which stems from the deft twists in melody and unpredictable arrangements that veer towards the improvised. The album has a cheerfully homemade feel. The production maintains a raw edge throughout, in itself a welcome change from the excess polish that can be applied all too easily in the pursuit of studio gloss. This is an album, though, where the lyrics remain a bit hidden in the mix and are generally subservient to the music.

The record begins strongly. Starter track “State Lines” breezes along with its opening Belle & Sebastian-like harmonies, giving way to something more along the lines of Grandaddy or The Shins as the song develops a harder edge midway through. The ringing guitars and crisply accented drums pack a certain punch and there’s a nicely unexpected Doors-style keyboard interlude. The song is instantly memorable from the opening chords to the abrupt ending at 3:16.  The following track, “Blackout”, is just as potent. Here the melody lines and harmonies edge more towards Beach Boys territory. I particularly like the minute-long guitar outro (not bad for a three and a half minute song), which I’d describe as a lyrical thrash, if you can connect those two usually opposing descriptives.

“Delegator” starts out a bit like Kings of Leon of the Aha Shake Heartbreak vintage and combines a strident tone with some less than obvious diversions in the melody. Again there is a snatch of Beach Boys about the structure and harmonies, and that’s no bad thing. This band doesn’t go in for long song titles and “Ghandi” suggests no one checked Wikipedia when committing the sleeve art. Still the song has its moments. Halfway through, we get “Intro”, a spaced oddity, all fast urgent licks, driving drums and bass. Loring adopts a more wailing vocal during the brief verses which are sandwiched by the frantic instumentals.

“Retina” signals a change of tempo and is dominated by moody, wavering keyboard sounds. It’s an atmospheric song with a Brenda guitar bit towards the end that is fast becoming a signature style. “Pill Hill” kicks off a bit like a Smiths tune with the words spilled out against a frenetic backcloth. Like “Blackout” it resolves itself with an instrumental outro that takes up a goodly proportion of the song, but this time with mellower tones.

If there’s one criticism you might level at Brenda, it’s that the songs are stuffed with good ideas but aren’t necessarily connected to produce a satisfying whole.  “Shaililai” is a case in point, a bit like early Kings of Leon, only taking singing lessons from the Ting Tings. Listen to the descending chorus and think Katie White. Then again, you can start to view the joined up thing as a band USP. The penultimate track, “Across The Bay”, spends its first half almost in Neil Young territory as a fairly routine rock song, highlighted by some punching bass, until a sudden quiet bit heralds a guitar and keys led instrumental binge which then sees it through. The album closes with “I’d Be Dead”. Surprisingly after what has gone before, this is a more conventionally structured song from start to finish, with only a short distorted coda tacked on the end.

You could add Pavement and Guided By Voices, and no doubt others, to those many influences picked out above, but then no one ever got anywhere by not listening to what has gone before. There’s plenty of creativity at work here which is to be applauded and largely forgives the less connected bits. Brenda won’t start a revolution right now but the view from Silver Tower is still very uplifting.


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