Softly spoken Texas-born singer Jay Brannan has admitted his favourite colour is grey, and most of his previous work has reflected his less than sunny disposition. Even though he’s only turned thirty, Brannan has earned himself a reputation as a quaint but cynical folk singer, forever unlucky in love.
Brannan gained an instant fanbase when he appeared in John Cameron Mitchell’s controversial, sexually charged film Shortbus. The accompanying soundtrack featured one of Brannan’s compositions, Soda Shop, that introduced him to a new set of followers.
Before commencing work on his third record, Rob Me Blind, Brannan drew up a list of his favourite producers. Top of the pile was David Kahne, who has has worked with The Bangles and Lana Del Rey, and helmed Paul McCartney’s Memory Almost Full. But most important of all, he was also responsible for the production on his favourite record, Regina Spektor’s Begin To Hope.
Kahne has harnessed Brannan’s obvious natural talents, and instead of just rolling out another modern folk record, the two have toyed with tempo, clever arrangements and thematic variety to produce an honest, informal and sometimes amusing collection of songs.
Dysfunction, frustration and pain appear in most of Brannan’s lyrics, and no one is safe from his scorn. In The State Of Music, he takes a stab at the corporate machine that he feels has morally bankrupted his industry, yet he finds time to express gratitude to the artists who have obviously influenced his work: “Thank you Dolores for inspiring me, Thank you Lisa for pure melody, In awe of Joni and the words she commands, breathtaking fingerwork from both Ani’s hands, Tracy for run-run-run-running and hope, The Irish goddess whose voice rivalled the Pope.”
Where Rob Me Blind really strides is when Brannan tries new tricks. Denmark is dominated by a glorious, piano-infused melody, The Spanglish Song is a delightful, jaunty tale of a cross cultural encounter (“we’ve got this language barrier, internal stuff that’s scarier”) and La La La is a highlight with its layered guitars, crisp drum patterns and carnivalesque trombones.
Throughout, Brannan is wearing his trademark lonely heart on his sleeve, but on the final song, A Love Story, he offers an unusual glimmer of hope: “I never believed in love, but it barrelled through, and changed my view, when love took the form of you.”
Whether the song is fact or fantasy, perhaps Brannan’s cynical tide may soon be turning. But we’ll just have to wait and see.