Monday, January 23, 2017

Trevor Shelley de Brauw - Uptown

One of my favorite random categories of music is albums that take their name from and subsequently shape their sound and message around a place.  Panopticon's stellar Kentucky is a sterling example, blending black metal with the local flavor of bluegrass in addition to the strife encountered by the state's coal workers.  Though I've driven through, I haven't spent much time in Kentucky, and so my experiences and feelings around Kentucky are filtered through things I've read, seen, and heard about the state, including Kentucky.  I'm using the experiences of others to create my own idea of a place, to form my own associations with it; for all I know, it's all a lie, and my idea of Kentucky is completely false.  Trevor Shelley de Brauw's debut solo album Uptown is named after a Chicago neighborhood in which I've spent a fair bit of time, has no such issues.

"A New Architecture" begins the proceedings with a healthy dose of feedback,  though it's quieter feedback than I've ever heard before.  Halfway through the song, the feedback is still going, but there are subtle happenings underneath, bits and pieces of melody and notes that are incredibly easy to miss if you aren't paying close attention, but still incredibly lush and beautiful to hear if you're zoning out on the Clark bus.  Which is actually a pretty good summary for Uptown.  Finally from out of the feedback comes a lone guitar melody, and it's lonely and sad and absolutely gorgeous.  "Distinct Frequency" starts off with an intro that wouldn't be out of place on a post-something album, one that could lead to monstrous, crushing drum fills or a synthesizer, or anything in between; de Brauw elects to build it toward a sparse, haunting melody that's genuinely creepy in some moments.  It reminded me a lot of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, which is never a bad thing.

"They Keep Bowing," with it's distorted yet clear guitar licks moving in and out of feedback like flames through smoke is probably the closest track stylistically to de Brauw's main band, post-metal legends Pelican, but just so much to make you think "Oh yeah, this guy's in Pelican and they're awesome" as opposed to "Why did he just put Pelican songs on a solo album?"  It's a fine line, and one that probably shouldn't matter as much as it seems to, but de Brauw nails the balance on "They Keep Bowing."  "You Were Sure" is a song that I initially disliked but has become one of my favorites on Uptown; a slow burning, folky track with vocals that I was so surprised by that it actually startled me the first time I heard them.  "You Were Sure" is probably the most straightforward song on the album, but there are still layers to unpack, and the acoustic guitar work is exceptional.  It sounds like a song that could be in a modern Western like No Country for Old Men or Hell or High Water (or just be great on Uptown).

 "Turn Up For What" and "From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang" are the final two songs on Uptown, and also the longest.  "Turn Up For What" builds up to a somber, meditative track absolutely drenched in feedback; it's one of those songs that makes you feel like it does more and goes more places than it actually does, which is to say that it manages to send you off in to your thoughts perfectly.  And while I wouldn't suggest any of the songs on Uptown are depressing or downers, "From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang" is certainly the most uplifting of the bunch.  Even then, there's something subdued about the emotion elicited (here and throughout the rest of the album); it's like when watching a funny video on a crowded train, you chuckle and smile instead of laughing loud and hard, and you're left thinking about it and smiling for the rest of your commute.  That's what listening to "From the Black Soil..." is like.

Uptown is much more on the drone/ambient side of things than de Brauw's work in Pelican, but no less impressive.  Where the riffs on, say, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw were designed to move mountains and recreate continents, Uptown finds Trevor Shelley de Brauw in a more contemplative, ethereal space.  While there's less going on musically on his solo debut, the music is no less (and perhaps even more) intricate.  Everything, from the melodies to the feedback, feels perfectly tied together to create the experience that is Uptown, and the delicate sense of balance (sorry) on the album creates one of the finest listening experiences I've ever had with a drone/noise album.  I've lived in Chicago for the vast majority of my adult life, and Uptown is as close to a perfect example of my experience with and love for the city as I think is possible.  Sometimes the noise/drone elements get to me and make me feel like I'm on a shoulder-to-shoulder Red Line car, commuting to work; other times, a melody (particularly the end of "A New Architecture") takes me back to walking along the shores of Lake Michigan late at night or up Lincoln Avenue way too early in the morning.  That isn't to say that you have to live in or love or know about Chicago to enjoy the tremendous work on Uptown; that's not it at all.  It's just a great feeling when an album comes out that makes you feel like home.

Uptown is out February 10th, and in case I was not perfectly clear, I think you should buy it and listen to it a lot.

- Durf

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