Click to hear: “Delegator”
This situation reminds me of 1996, the year the two singer/songwriter/guitarists of Guided By Voices simultaneously released debut solo albums. The band’s prime mover, Robert Pollard, put out the brilliant, if overgenerous, Not in My Airforce. Tobin Sprout — who’d been limited, Harrison-like, to a handful of songs on GBV releases — gave us Carnival Boy: a good album, but put next to Airforce, it made clear who was rightly piloting the GBV jet.
Similarly, Nov. 29 saw the release of debut albums by Metal Feathers and Brenda, two bands spawned when the lauded local indie-rock group Cult Maze supernova-ed last spring. The self-titled full-length by the former — led by Cult Maze’s prime mover, Jay Lobley — is fantastic. (Read David Pence’s review here.) Brenda’s Let Loose is good, but…
It’s not a fair comparison, of course. For one thing, Let Loose is a five-song EP. And though Brenda leader Josh Loring played guitar in Cult Maze and added the occasional backing vocal, his role was not as significant as Sprout’s was in GBV. Still, comparisons are inevitable, especially since Cult Maze bassist and keyboardist Peet Chamberlain is in Brenda. The excellent drummer D.J. Moore (who also plays in the ’80s cover band The Awesome these days) is the other principal.
Brenda makes catchy, breezy alt-pop with hints of prog thrown in here and there for kicks. As a songwriter, Loring likes to take left turns, and these almost always lead somewhere cool.
The opener, “Silver Tower,” is a great little rave-up, complete with ooh-aahs from Chamberlain, tambourine galore, and a stunt ending. The sinewy hooks of “Delegator” dig under your skin like a tick as the song progresses through several sections, all ear-catching in their own way, in under three minutes.
“I’d Be Dead” and “Lines” are more straightforward compositions, colored in places with backing vocals, but it feels like there’s room for more sound, more elements than the band had or took time to add.
The last track here, “Gandhi,” lifts Let Loose back up: a wicked rock riff paired with sing-along-pop verses that turn to pure sugar at the very end before cruelly, abruptly ending.
The shortcoming here is mostly in the recording. Let Loose sounds a bit muffled throughout. If the vocals, percussion and bass were clearer, everything’d be catchier.
Then again, you could say the same thing about lo-fi, Sprout-era GBV, and it still ruled.
— Chris Busby
Brenda plays with Graeme K., Eggbot and Computer at Sea on Fri., Dec. 19, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9:30 p.m. Tix: $6 (18+). 828-5600. space538.org. To hear “Delegator,” go to the online version of this review in the Music section of thebollard.com. For more on Brenda, visit myspace.com/brendaslicer.