Thursday, June 7, 2018
SUNNY SKIES WITH APPROACHING CLOUDS: "BEES OF THE INVISIBLE" GENTLE BRONTOSAURUS
GENTLE BRONTOSAURUS are
Huan-Hua Chye: Vocals, Ukulele, Keyboards
Nick Davies: Vocals, Keyboards, Trumpet
Cal Lamore: Guitars
Paul Marcou: Drums, Percussion
Anneliese Valdes: Bass Guitar, Saxophone, Baritone Horn, Trumpet, Backing Vocals
All Music and Lyrics by Gentle Brontosaurus
Mastered by Carl Saff
Art by Michael Sambar
Engineered and Mixed by Cal Lamore
Released May 12, 2018
Dear readers and listeners, at this time, I am wondering if any of you tend to match certain musical genres or artists to specific seasons of the year.
For me, during the Fall and Winter months, my musical choices may turn towards songs that lean into more electronic territories, or selections that prove themselves to be more synthetic to varying degrees and definitely more atmospheric, therefore matching tone and mood with the darkening skies earlier and earlier in the afternoons. The Summer months you would not be surprised to find me listening to more languid, lengthier tunes, specifically prog rock or extended soul and funk selections, songs that tend to stretch out just as the days themselves are lengthening and the temperatures grow increasingly hotter.
Yet for the months that make up Spring, my synesthesia tends to receive a workout as I am seeking songs whose melodies luxuriously demand color after the grayness of Winter. Spring means pop songs, pop songs and even more pop songs, music that seemingly wills the warmth of the season back into fruition and the colors of nature into full view. For me, bring on Badfinger, Dwight Twilley and Big Star. Give me The Anniversary. Spoil me with The Pursuit Of Happiness and Sloan. Grace me with late period XTC!!! I think you get the picture.
The pop songs that I love during the Spring are the ones that inspire you to open the windows, either of your homes or your car, and all for the sole purpose of allowing such songs the ample air and space to travel as widely and as far as possible, bringing the colors of the world back to life alongside the warmth of the sun.
At this time, I wish to turn your attention to a new release that provides precisely what I have been explaining and extolling to all of you. The band in question is the Madison, WI based quintet named Gentle Brontosaurus and I am terribly excited to point you towards their second album, entitled "Bees Of The Invisible," a release that sounds and feels like the season of Spring itself has been magically weaved into this jaunty, ebullient, instantly affectionate collection of 12 indie power pop tunes.
With an overall sound that often suggests the alt-pop music of Rilo Kiley or 10,000 Maniacs, Gentle Brontosaurus conjures up visions of those nice kids down the street, writing and playing away in a neighbor's garage, a la The Partridge Family. The songs jangle happily, with rhythms and melodies that will enthusiastically invite you to sing along and certainly, the band's instrumentation, which includes brass and ukulele, sweetens the deal with delightful dollops of twee.
But even so, with even the best Spring days, clouds can always arrive and in regards to the songs of Gentle Brontosaurus, thee are darker, more turbulent emotions bubbling under the shiny surfaces of their idiosyncratic pop sheen, making for an album experience that is eager to dance with you as it quietly disturbs, unsettles and at times, breaks your heart.
With the inviting bounce of band member/lead singer Huan-Hua Chye's ukulele and augmented by trumpet fanfares Gentle Brontosaurus' "Bees Of The Invisible" opens with "Morgan," a song that sonically sounds like a child skipping down the sidewalk so lightly that blissful zero gravity might be achieved. Yet, it is within the song's lyrics that a troubling weight reveals itself. In fact, the lyrics almost sound as if they emerged from a gritty blues song.
"If I could measure the distance between your fingers and mine
Maybe my stuttering fingers would start to march in time
I'd ride to the crossroads and throw off my long coat
Bargain with whoever would have me
Deal with the devil or give up the worn soles of my dancing shoes
Tell the whole world what I'm looking to lose..."
The tricky juxtaposition of sounds and moods builds with "The Hedonist," a selection where the guitars and New Wave styled keyboards achieve a hula hoop hip swaying groove but is in actuality a first person character study of the self-described titular figure who matter-of-factually proclaims that "Poison for my body is like food for my soul" and how "Whiskey drink, velvet clothes, sex, sleep and food/Chase away the ticking clock and the existential blues," all the while delivered via Huan-Hua Chye and Anneliese Valdes' cheerfully warm, inviting, and again, sing-a-long vocals.
The astounding "track1.mp3" is easily one of the album's highest standouts. Nick Davies takes over the lead vocals, while Chye and Valdes coo behind him, in a selection about a music fan who falls hopelessly in love with the previously unknown voice and song of a soon to be discovered long deceased artist.
Containing a palate that suggests Modern English's "I Melt With You" merged with The Who's "Pictures Of Lily," the song is a glorious tribute to the ephemeral power of music, especially when it transcends time, space, life and death. And just so the tune remains grounded and not esoteric, I particularly loved how the song's narrator occasionally attempts to downplay or even sidestep his rapturous affection by asserting that "It might not be a brilliant song," only to find himself unable to stop himself from expressing his devotion by admitting the following: "I put you on all my playlists and my mixtapes... you'll live on in a file on a flash drive/Or a Russian pirate site/Until the DMCA/Makes them take it down/They'll never find you/Up there in the cloud/track1.mp3" Absolutely terrific!!!
The rapid momentum of the album accelerates even more with the percussive tale of envy, "A Shot," where this song's narrator, as voiced by Chye, incredulously views the nose to the grindstone determination and drive of an acquaintance to leave their small town for greener pastures while she remains behind, wholly unsure, and possibly even unable to discover the same motivation within herself. As Gentle Brontosaurus accelerates and builds the tension, as augmented by percolating bongos and rising trumpet blasts, "Bees Of The Invisible" soon settles into a mid album daydream..albeit one that is not quite as pleasant as it may first sound.
Davies returns to the lead vocals on "For Emma," a grim lullaby depicting the raucous odyssey of a woman who was "never well behaved." Upon some investigation on my part as the song makes references to Proust, imprisonment and the critical location of Sach's Cafe, I am wondering if the band in indeed detailing the story of the anarchist political activist and writer Emma Goldman, who passed away in 1940 and was a crucial force in the rise of anarchistic philosophy in the early 20th century. Yes, I could reach out and ask the band but I think I'd like to sit with this for a while as I like the idea of a song that presents itself so quietly in effect being about something so seismic and turbulent.
Even moreso, is the nearly six minute surreal suite "The World's On Fire." With Chye on lead vocals once more, I found myself, of all things, thinking about Kirsten Dunst in Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" (2011) as this song utilizes its deliberate pacing, lyrics and musical sections to possibly describe, either separately or concurrently, the end of a relationship or a descent into depression or even the end of existence itself. "Shield your eyes/The world's on fire," Chye repeats throughout, each time eliciting gradually increasing feelings of doom and ultimately apocalyptic finality.
Once the dust settles, Gentle Brontosaurus brings out their dancing shoes and picks up the pace once again with the infectious herky-jerky rhythms of "My Ultimate Form," a celebratory song of emergence and the shedding of a former skin for a newer, better existence. The trumpet fueled dance party of "Wicker Park," serves up the unapologetically joyous ode to a messy abode, a ditty that reminded me of the deceptively peppy bounce of 10,000 Maniacs' "Candy Everybody Wants."
The album's final third opens with "Pull The Van Around," a Nick Davies sung track about "A gracious, patient friend" who remain forever steadfast when he should clearly just walk away and not look back. The travails of a struggling young actress arrives in the clever short story "The 8th Degree Of Kevin Bacon" while the self-explanatory "Jerkface," complete with its African rhythm influenced by way of Paul Simon's literary pop, unveils the full admonishment of a boorish office worker.
"Bees Of The Invisible" draws to a close with an epic finale, and in actuality, the one song where the musicality and lyrical content feel to be in lockstep--essentially the band's "A Day In The Life," a song to work as a counterpoint to the frothy sounds that had arrived before. "Hobo Signs In The Liner Notes" unquestionably places a creepy period to the album's conclusion as the band explores unhealthy to potentially and progressively terrifying celebrity obsessions.
"I saw you on that TV show
And you looked into my eyes
I saw you wore that red jacket
The one you know I like...
...In the basement of the thrift shop
I found a letter with my name
Well, I know you're out there
And I'll wait...
...I saw you in that magazine
Morse code kerning spelled out my name
I understood what you meant there
We are the same
We are the same..."
The growing, unsettling tension of "Hobo Signs In The Liner Notes" makes for a song that, to my ears, has found a certain similar thematic space to tracks like The Carpenters' "Superstar" and Eminem's "Stan" to even elements from films like Robert Altman's "Nashville" (1975) and definitely real world tragedies, most notably John Lennon's assassination on December 8, 1980.
And yet...there is something that is inexplicably warm about the song, with Chye's vocals, her finest on the album, weaving a sound that is almost wistful, to Cal Lamore's lyrically climactic guitar solo, and the elegiac wash of organ and keyboards that are as lush as a setting sun. All of those qualities allows the song, which could have solely existed as a song of increasing menace, to simultaneously serve as something akin to Fountains Of Wayne's heartbreaking "Hackensack" tossed in for good measure. Gentle Brontosaurus certainly saved the best for last with this track, a song where all five members dug deeper, reached higher and grabbed tighter in a song that congealed a variety of emotions and moods to a seemingly effortless degree. And believe me, hearing Chye sing the words "I'll wait" repeatedly, provided the album with the perfect grace note on which to conclude.
Gentle Brontosaurus' "Bees Of The Invisible" is a first rate slice of expertly conceived and delivered pop, the kind of which that would easily elevate the perceptions of what pop music could actually be to larger audiences should they find the avenues to even hear something as strong, yet as left of center, as this release. It is an exceedingly well crafted group of songs, performed with a jubilant energy (most especially, Huan-Hua Chye's lead vocals, which keep reminding me of the certain tone and timbre of Natalie Merchant) that connects instantly and most certainly rewards repeat listenings where for me, I have been so excited to hear new flourishes each time.
In fact, as I have now heard "Bees Of The Invisible" several times, I wish to extend my thoughts about how the music feels perfect for a Spring day. To me, this beautifully sequenced album sounds as if the musical flow could conceptually occur over the course of a Spring day, with the first four songs representing a glorious sunrise and early morning, all leading to that middle of the day dreamy haze, the late afternoon rejuvenation to the eventual, and sometimes melancholy sunset. Only the members of the band know for certain if something like this was part of their original intent or not. But even so, I find it fun and fruitful to have been this inspired as I listen.
That is a testament to the craft and skill on display throughout as Gentle Brontosaurus proves that pop music need not be forgettable. Pop music at its best is unquestionably artistic and it is also not nearly as easy as it may sound to create. Yet for Gentle Brontosaurus, they make every song feel as clear and as easy as the Spring breezes upon your faces.
In regards to their contemporaries within the Madison music community, from Skyline Sounds to Anna Wang to Slow Pulp and the now defunct Modern Mod, Gentle Brontosaurus has achieved their artistic success in the same fashion: by understanding that the song is the star and any potential egos need to be brushed aside entirely in order to fully serve the song. In doing so, for this album, there is not one wasted moment or even one song that is not deserving of your attention and affection.
Gentle Brontosaurus' "Bees Of The Invisible" is the sort of pop music that inspires images of sun drenched garden parties, vibrant, multi-colored balloons and sticky sweet bubble gum, swirling polka dot dresses, gloriously fizzy lemonade and bouncing beachballs. It is an album that you would desire to wrap your arms around it and deliver a powerful embrace.
But watch out, there are some compellingly hidden spikes inside!