"American politics have soured me/ on a faith enslaved to ideology" isn't the sort of sentiment you ordinarily encounter on a singer-songwriter's Christmas album, but Dan Bryk is no ordinary singer-songwriter. If you don't know about the Triangle-via-Toronto musician yet, you will soon. Since the release of his terrific Lover's Leap in 2000, the Toronto native's musical hands have been tied by a variety of record label and immigration strings. But Bryk has a new LP, Pop Psychology, in the can. Don't be surprised if it earns the local secret with the often mispronounced name (brick, not brike) a profile more commensurate with his talent.
Until then, we have Christmas Record. Bryk is a charismatic pop-rocker in the vein of Ben Folds or Randy Newman. As such, he writes about real life, unvarnished and banal though it may be. Bryk doesn't idealize Christmas. Instead, it's only a backdrop on which his annual cycle of brief hope and lingering disappointment plays out: "All the gestures are empty/ all the decorations are fake," he mopes amid the grand, funerary bells of "Love Me for Christmas."
Bryk's Christmas is one of seasonal depression (on the martial, melancholy "Winter Sad") and amplified regret (on the starry piano ballad "Simple Stupid Song"). The two covers here—Carol Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas" and Bill Pritchard's "Cozy Evenings"—are Brykian in the extreme.
But portraying Christmas Record as a piss-take only tells part of the story. Bryk isn't really a cynic. He's just honest, with the not-so-shy, razor tongue of a lifelong smartass. He's at his best when he's able to retain this edge while probing realms of feeling other than the nihilistic, as with "Christmas Ballad" and "Great Adventure." In the former, Bryk imagines meeting Jesus changing a tire, and constructs a dialogue that grapples with serious issues of spirituality while making room for Jesus (who sounds an awful lot like Bob Dylan) to say, "I know you dude/ I've been watching your stupid video all day on YouTube." The latter is an epic road song detailing Bryk and his girlfriend's move to Chapel Hill. It's dense with local specificity and a winning appreciation of how minor setbacks can sweeten any adventure. Like Christmas Record, it's no tossed-off holiday bric-a-brac. Its blend of raffish wit and sober poignancy is relevant year-round. —Brian Howe
To listen to two tracks from Christmas Record, see our article "The Bryk house."
No More Love
Under the ever-expanding umbrella that is experimental, music can lean toward process over beauty. This collaboration avoids the conceit that a work can't be properly appreciated unless it's fully explained. No More Love is what it is, whatever that means: A patchwork of incongruous sounds mixes correctly, shards making unlikely wholes and square pegs fitting into circular holes.
Isaac Trogdon and John McCusker were Southern Man, a duo slamming industrial-tinged percussive noise into an unhinged frame of electronics. (Trogdon was also a co-founder of performance space Nightlight before moving to Berlin.) Here as Pykrete, Chuck Johnson's experience with creating mood and texture for film scores provides a buffer for the clatter of McCusker's machine shop roaring at full tilt. Trogdon bobs to and fro, crackly pops of beats and frayed effects splashing on everything. Metal-on-metal clangs and wood slams rubbing against the computer bleeps craft a girder system that gives this set the foreboding vibe of a decrepit building, creaking and swaying in the breeze, ready to be leveled at the foundation. That it's a live recording only adds to its loose, furious nature. "Curretage" acts as the centerpiece here. A collage piece, it grows sentient, slithering rattler-like through a cloud of digital haze, tightly coiled and within striking range. —Chris Toenes
(Pox World Empire)
To understand Audubon Park, you have to keep in mind one main point: They have always been shifty. It's usually Chapel Hillian David Nahm playing with his friends. The familiarity may not breed contempt, but it does guarantee a snickering attitude that translates into a jokey musical phrase for every right-on pop lick. To get the sense of humor in play here—equal parts self-deprecating aww-shucks and living-room playfulness (one source of inspiration is the pet cat)—try the band's communal blog, Tropic of Food (www.audubonpark.blogspot.com).
As such, for this full collection (finally, after three EPs of 12 cuts), the group tumbles through arch rock urgency, peppered with the eccentricities of a band willing to play around with noisy (and even campy) bits. As with the Mr. Show send-up of The Actor's Studio, the wit remains. The last track, written in three cohesive parts titled "a," "b" and "c," exhibits some free-play, with Ben Cohen (younger brother of AP member Finn Cohen) opening the gates on a flood of saxophone improvisation.
Nahm's unique take on lyrics is split between poetic imagery and nearly cute irony. "Window Lifestyles" puts that duality in its most lucid framework: "Like a parking lot after a thunder storm/ Your hands are two dry riverbeds/ I thank God I remember everything/ A bottle of MadDog in the mulberry glistening."
"You had me at 'dry riverbeds,'" one might say, but lines about "MadDog in the mulberry" turn any pensive mush into a grin, almost instantaneously. And, you know, that's just the way they like it down at Audubon Park. —Chris Toenes
MP3 maybe coming before 2007...
North of the Border
(Silent Dayze Music)
Alex Weiss is the epitome of persistence, working with a tenacity that's kept the accomplished conga player in work in the rock-heavy Triangle for over a decade. Weiss has maintained Different Drum since 1992, and the quintet stays busy with local gigs.
Their latest, North of the Border, is a slight diversion on what they do best, capturing the spirit of the conga, the core of the samba and landscapes stretching from Brazil and Guatemala and back up to Weiss' native Queens in one missive. Weiss' band is one of international origins, and each member leaves his or her impression on Weiss' unique and heavily percussion-based compositions. It's his band, but they share the work well.
Each song is evocative of its origin. "Poor but Richer" brings to mind children chasing each other through Mayan ruins, while "El Carretero" reminds the listener of American cars trotting through Havana while passengers chomp fat Cuban cigars. The group tackles everything from a calypso medley (titled, well, "Calypso Medley") to an ambitious if shaky version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." All in all, it's a strong effort, but we'd already been told that, right? —Rich Ivey
MP3 maybe coming before 2007...
Love in the New Dark Age
(No Gong Records)
If the red-stained smoke swirls and leather-gloved, short-skirted lead singer on the front of Overproof's debut don't clue you in, then maybe the album title will: Love in the New Dark Age. This is sexed-up, in-your-face femme rock to the max, full of the pouty-lipped emotional binging and purging that classifies the genre. Lead by Jane Tarry's sultry soprano, the album is a return to the alt-'90s, when Fiona Apple's deep-throated diatribes and Courtney Love's sassy vocals ruled the airwaves. Tarry's voice wavers toward the middle. Even though her vocals imitate rock goddesses of the past, the seven-track EP is a thoroughly modern affair, exploring the stomped hearts and bleeding knees of millennium romance with big guitars and arching hooks.
But Tarry only gets halfway there: Her voice lacks tenacity and falls short of Love and Apple's more earnest, convincing efforts. She speaks of jilted hearts and lovers' betrayal, but it sometimes sounds as if she's reading the script of a broken heart rather than living it. Opener "Unbearable" finds Tarry torn between finding herself and an old flame. She screams, "I want you back, baby, back," but her voice doesn't push hard enough to eclipse crashing guitars and a lunging band. It's when Tarry's voice doesn't get lost in the cacophony of noise that it shines. Songs like "Freedom" and "Like I Loved You" allow Tarry's voice the most room to breathe, with shout-out-loud choruses pumped over a backdrop of blistering Gibsons, tube amps, wah-pedals and drums.
You've heard and seen this one before: Love in the New Dark Age falls short of its glossy, sexed-up exterior, promising passion but delivering something closer to apathy. —Kathy Justice