Review Summary: Accessible and impressive alike, Cave In frontman's solo project hits the nail on the head.
Stephen Brodsky seems to have always been a busy guy, especially in the wake of his previous outfit, Cave In
. The former guitarist/singer and all in all frontman of the post space alterna-rock band has since kept himself occupied with a number of solo releases verging left of center on the brink of alterna-pop (see: the Octave Museum
). I must confess that my initial response to his solo material was, as any would react to the "frontman side project", somewhat unenthused. However, Brodsky's latest album comes to us under the moniker, if you could call it that, of Stove Bredsky
, an obvious play on his name. While promotion on Hydra Head's website details the name as one of many in an inside joke of sort, the disc itself is nothing to take lightly.
The Black Ribbon Award
pushes outside any of Brodsky's past work, which is likely why it has come to fall under a separate name. Fittingly too, as this is not only his best work to date but also one that easily distinguishes itself without straying so far to be labeled as but a novelty. This is not to say that the record is not out there, in fact if anything it boasts that: a)
Stephen Brodsky is a little far out himself; b)
a sound that is drug-induced or enhanced; or c)
a little bit of both. Though no one song immediately calls back any era of Cave In
material it is easy not only to hear Brodsky's influence in song writing, but to imagine how they would translate into the band's sound as well. This makes even more sense when you know that the majority of the album was written by Brodsky while still playing with them in the 90's.
Still, though it seems to be somewhat genre elusive, there is a signature sound that lies in the heart of The Black Ribbon Award
and dilutes the album's influences and similarities into something that is incredibly catchy yet unique in its own merit. The album is never committed entirely to one particular mood or another for too long, weaving in and out between the fuzzy pop of an early 70's nostalgia, brooding spasms of psychedelia, and periods of droning ambiance. Dreamy pop choruses will ring out in between looming feedback and sighing backdrops, swelling ambient pauses will find themselves crescendoing into explosions, as in the shouting burst of dissonance that meets us in the very beginning of the record upon the start of Dead of Winter
Things rarely get too chaotic for their own good though and, as indicated by the eighteen tracks listed, Brodsky is good about separating each shift in dynamic from track to track. The first half of the record contains the bulk of the more alterna-pop oriented tunes that are sure to end up chiming in the head of whoever listens. Songs like Mayfly
and Spacegirl Saturn
showcase Brodsky's mastery as a songwriter, bringing to light a style that similarly made many of the solid, more accessible tracks of later Cave In
records so effective. Aside from the upbeat, fuzzy dream-pop he also is capable of withdrawing into the much more delicate Rainbow No More
, which is a somber, sighing track lead by a falsetto that begs to be sung along to.
When things do veer, catchy melodies oftentimes are subdued or fade into a relatively darker, sometimes heavier foundation that rekindles the flame of Brodsky's past band to a degree. After two pop-psych tracks introduce the record, Dead Battery
twinges dissonant lines into a thick, distorted bass grumble that finds its way into Blood Red Blues
. Here Brodsky laments in a bittersweet murmur about a woman, remarking among other things about smoking a lot of weed. As though the former reference is not blatant enough, the latter half of the disc begins with Orange Sunshine Medicine
, a return to the dreamy acoustic ballad in which he urges the listener to take a little bit of said "medicine". Innocent enough, perhaps, but the following track Splatterbrain
reacts just as the drug in question might have, erupting into a spiral of thundering drums and fuzz-heavy riffs that plod along and squeal against the sounds of distant, gasping vocal harmonies.
This isn't to say that Stephen Brodsky is on drugs, or that the album was created under the exposure to them, but the latter half of the album in particular has some tracks that certainly seem to be much more psychedelic, to say the least (see: The Coattail Rider
balances between an a quiet acoustic guitar ringing to Brodsky's hushed vocals and a "chorus" of sort that winds back into a riff-heavy field complete with swelling vocal harmonies. The balance of the album is always restored, of course, but as it progresses there are a few tracks on the second half that are hauntingly reminiscent of Pink Floyd
's The Wall
. The vocal harmonies leading into the acoustic ballad Return to Rain
hold a likeness to Floyd's Goodbye Blue Sky
and two tracks later the slow moving guitar brooding of Prospect Hill
brings to mind the still intensity of some of the tracks throughout.
Aside from the oh-so-catchy dream pop, or the slightly menacing growl of the churning darker tracks, or the twisting psychedelic spasms that occasionally accentuate it, the album also offers instrumental periods that segue tracks but also begin and end the disc. Fortunately, the result of it all is not all over the place... well, not so much that it's unenjoyable anyway. With The Black Ribbon Award
, there is a lot to absorb but thankfully Brodsky is able to keep the listener on their toes without losing them along the way. If anything, it rouses curiosity. Is this just an experiment and will this be the only Stove Bredsky exclusive record? Could material like this end up on a future Cave In
release (unlikely as it may be)? Or is Stephen Brodsky just really onto something with this record and is it the precursor to something even greater? Whatever this is, it's damn good.
Rainbow No More
Orange Sunshine Medicine/Splatterbrain
Return to Rain