Album Reviews

Brazos – Saltwater

(Dead Oceans) UK release date: 27 May 2013

Brazos - Saltwater Much like soundalikes Local Natives, Brooklyn via Austin trio Brazos make Afropop-inspired indie folk that is catchy and bouncy but a time-specific amalgam of better acts like Vampire Weekend or Grizzly Bear. That said, there’s a lot on Brazos’ latest album, Saltwater, that is admirable, not so much for its attempted musical sophistication but instead for its pop sensibilities.

Initially, two of the album’s more buzzworthy tracks fall victim to “spot the influence” even though they’re good pop tracks. Opener Always On is nothing new, and it doesn’t work as a distinguishing, leadoff statement of purpose for Brazos on the basis of its lack of originality, but it’s a good song nonetheless that features warm, shimmery Afropop guitar and synths. Meanwhile, lead single How The Ranks Was Won is no more original but is simply irresistible: it’s breezy, easy, perhaps self-consciously mentions easy breeze, and contains an “ooh” filled chorus. In other words, How The Ranks Was Won is so poppy that you don’t know it’s really an epic about a ghost ship and its descendants.

The best of the first three tracks, however, is the one that Always On and How The Ranks Was Won sandwich: the slyly staccato, simultaneously subtle and confident, guitar riff-driven Charm, which does to the listener exactly what the title promises. Like Villagers did so effectively on the best tracks of this year’s great {Awayland}, Charm seamlessly incorporates electronic flourishes into indie folk and/or rock to create a confident aesthetic that, if incorporated more and diversely throughout Saltwater, would have resulted in a truly great album.

Instead, too often on Saltwater, Brazos’ confused aesthetic distracts from the pop delight and even complexity the band tries to achieve. Deeper Feelings juxtaposes clear vocals with guitar that’s somewhere in between dream pop and shoegaze. Perhaps, with Deeper Feelings, Brazos was trying too hard, resulting in an inconsistent, muddled sound. And while Vampire Weekend knew when and where to add singular blips and bleeps throughout their new album Modern Vampires Of The City, the synthy “whoops” throughout One Note Pillow stand out annoyingly, perhaps ironically making it the only note you hear. And the weakest track on Saltwater is the obnoxiously-titled bossa nova track Valencia, whose bourgeois, yuppie sound only gives way in favour of a bouncy, rising, non-traditional time signature-laden chorus that just makes you want to listen to Cate Le Bon’s superior Falcon Eyed instead.

Disappointments aside, Saltwater ends on a promising note with its title track, which, again, may not stray from the Brooklyn circa 2009 aesthetic, but effectively uses the inherent epicness of the Moby Dick story and its narrator, Ishmael, to contrast the song’s lack of arc. The title track never swells into an exhilarating climax like Local Natives’ Sun Hands; rather, its guitar, percussion, synths and organs at most rise to a riffy, Southern Point-esque chorus. After four minutes, the title track veers into one that, much like another great Grizzly Bear song Sleeping Ute, ends with gorgeous acoustic guitar plucks. And the greatness of the title track even makes you forgive the underwhelming, too-straightforward actual closer, Long Shot.

Overall however, listening to Saltwater you realise that, while the album contains nothing seriously off-putting, you grow tired of Brazos’ style when listening to it. Over the period of just over 40 minutes, Brazos effectively recap the baroque indie of the past half-decade, a style from which, unfortunately for Brazos, most of the bands they’re channeling have moved on. More specifically, while, say, Veckatimest is an album that’s both lasting and very indicative of a moment in time, Saltwater represents a copycat trend that was already starting in late 2009/early 2010 with Local Natives’ Gorilla Manor. That Brazos are doing it in 2013 wouldn’t matter as much if, simply, their songs were better.

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