Nate Brenner has played in a variety of venues and countries thanks to his duties in tUnE-yArDs as bassist; from theatres and clubs to outdoor fields and plazas, he’s seen plenty. That time on the road has given birth to the loose concept behind his second solo record as Naytronix, Mister Divine. So many records about life on the road are fraught with a stumbling block before a note is played – trying to convince an audience that they are not ungrateful for their good fortune.
Mister Divine adopts an altogether different approach that is certainly desirable after umpteen “well, touring’s quite hard and dull, isn’t it?” stories. The process of making it also triggers a return to a more stripped-down style for Brenner. The core of each of these nine songs is nothing more than his vocals, a drum machine and bass. Even with help from Matt Nelson and Noah Bernstein (also from tUnE-yArDs) and Michael Coleman, there is a clear aim to see how much mileage can be achieved from very little.
Throughout, no doubt as a result from its low-key aesthetic, there is a laid-back and carefree feel to the music. There are brash component parts, such as he fizzing guitar solo during The Wall and synths that sizzle away in the background during Starting Over, but they appear more as flourishes than anything more substantial. The way that they seem to pop out of the speakers is sometimes reminiscent of the occasionally delirious palette of Sufjan Stevens‘ Age Of Adz. Even Brenner’s vocals range from being well-grounded to dreamy, often in the same song, making him sound remarkably tranquil. He is constantly trying to establish his place in the world and tracks like I Don’t Remember deal with the fact that everything turns into one giant blur when the landscape around him is constantly changing.
However, to say that it was a complete recontextualisation of what life is like as a touring musician would be misleading, and that is where the main problem with Mister Divine lies. No matter how much it transcends convention and structure, the fact remains this is an LP that doesn’t have a huge amount to say bar from the odd shrewd observation. It feels like an opportunity missed and, even more frustratingly, because there is a tendency to add so many sonic elements in the foreground, some of Brenner’s more interesting lyrics slip into the background. Tracks like The Future and the appropriately named Dream drift on and on without really exerting anything of note.
All the building blocks are in place including, unsurprisingly, a very decent rhythm section. It has plenty of weirdness and experimentation, but at some expense. Lyrically, it’s ponderous without being too profound. The theme of displacement is something that is oft-told through songwriting, and Mister Divine has elements of interesting insights, but as a whole it doesn’t quite stand out in the way that it should.