Brion Starr – Global Identity (2019)

Image courtesy of Brion Starr

Brion Starr – New York-based songwriter and artist is set to release his debut album Global Identity on April 19th. Starr takes pride in the chaos of his music, and he uses it well (most of the time). Washes of noise created by distorted vocals, overdriven electric guitars, synthesisers, and wind instruments accompany the raw 70s rock sounds of the band.

The first half of the album is unique and exciting but was plagued by a few recurring issues. Overall, the songs are just too abrupt. This goes for abrupt endings, abrupt time changes, abrupt vocal melodies, etc. The other major issue I encountered is form. The songs tend to be short, which is fine, but a lot of time is wasted on musical tangents with no substance. There were several ideas that I wish had been developed more thoroughly but were abandoned prematurely to make room for unrelated sound effects or cacophonous noise sections. Additionally, after the first several tracks, the album descends into total disorganisation, with a series of short tracks that don’t seem to contribute anything to the album, and then a lot of hazy monologues and dialogues drowned out by sound effects. If tracks 7-12 didn’t exist, it just wouldn’t make a big difference.

‘The Real Thing’, ‘Strange Orientation’, ‘Wonderful’, and ‘Down (Under Ground)’ all had a lot in common. In all cases, Starr’s flamboyant, distorted vocal leads the band through a wild ride of music. The instrumentation is very tight. I especially liked the drummer who played both in-the-pocket grooves and heavy-handed fills reminiscent of the Keith Moon ‘madman’ drummers of the 60s and 70s.

‘The Heart Is A Loaded Gun’ made the most sense as a song with clear verses and choruses, thoroughly developed musical ideas, a good ending that was neither too lame nor too weird and moments of the wild cacophony Starr is known for. The thing is, it managed to do all of this and it still wasn’t longer than three and a half minutes. So my question is, why aren’t all the songs solid through and through like this one?

The guitar riff that carries the verses sets the track up perfectly, and Starr’s vocal performance really is exactly what the song needs. The chorus is simple and exciting, and its unique chord progression creates a shifty groundwork the song can stand on without getting too comfortable. The broken speaker distortion on the guitar is perfect for Starr’s sound, and the unison bends over the last chorus really take the song to its final energy level and ultimately its completion. I think they spent way too long on a pre-chorus after the second verse that just went back and forth between two chords, but all things considered, this song is the hit of the album.

The 7, 8, and 9 tracks (‘The Faculty of the Senses’, ‘Time Is’, ‘Come Eschaton’) are where the album starts to lose its impact. None of these three songs is longer than 1:30, and since the album between tracks 6 and 9 runs continuously without musical stops in between songs, they all just felt like pointless and somewhat random extensions of ‘Down (Under Ground)’. The only one of the three that had time to contribute anything useful was ‘Come Eschaton’ by repeating the lyric “come Eschaton”. My response to this was, of course, “what’s Eschaton?”. Well, as it turns out, Eschaton is defined by Oxford Dictionary as ‘the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world’.

So Eschaton’s pertinence to the album’s overall concept of global identity becomes more clear. There’s just one thing that throws a thorn in this one; Starr doesn’t exactly sing in tune. Instead, Starr honours a long-standing tradition of great lead singers who don’t actually sing in tune. The list includes some big names, like Bono of U2 and Bon Scott of AC/DC. The trick is, you’ve got to have some redeeming quality of performance to get away with not singing exactly in tune, which Starr has on most of the album. However, in this song (and other deep cuts from this record, including ‘Here Comes The Sunken’, ‘Time Is’, and the final track, ‘Dream Cream’), the melody includes much longer sustained notes, which make his unsteady intonation very obvious. I’d even say painfully obvious.

I was hoping the album would perk up before its end, but I was disappointed. When I saw that ’90 Dresden’ was almost nine minutes long, I thought to myself, “I hope this song matters”. It doesn’t. For almost nine minutes, random soundbites of monologue and dialogue fade in and out over sound effects, voice memo-esque recordings of people messing around on a piano, a whack synth pad, and the occasional spot of between two and four bars of music. I would have hoped that all the talking was important to at least communicating the theme of the album, but all of it is either muddy or mumbled or otherwise unclear.

Brion Starr has a lot of cool ideas and the foundation of a killer sound, but elementary mistakes plague this album. Ideas that aren’t important, disorganised song forms that leave the listener confused on what’s happening and caught off guard by song endings, and out of tune singing are all basic things that artists and songwriters just have to be in control of. But if Starr can capitalise on what he already does well (which is a lot, don’t get me wrong) and fix what he doesn’t, we’ll have something really cool to enjoy in the future.

Related posts:

A Chat with Brion Starr (08.04.19)

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