Cleaning the Mirror
Styles: gothic basement post-punk
Others: 39 Clocks, Joy Division, Bauhaus
Pink Reason seemingly emerged out of nowhere last summer and dominated playtime on turntables around the blogosphere. Kevin De Broux, a 26-year-old Wisconsin native, crafted the three-song Pink Reason 7-inch, which recalled tightly-woven lo-fi singles of the early '90s. The Throw it Away 7-inch followed the classic single template, pairing a strong, anthemic A-side with two equally strong but more eccentric B-sides. The single earned him a live session on WFMU and a coveted record deal with Siltbreeze. In mere months, it seemed like De Broux ascended to a peak that underground artists spend their whole careers trying to reach. Truthfully, De Broux climbed out of a hole called Green Bay, where local alternative media, promoters, audiences, and even friends ignored his music. After years of struggling to find an audience, fans eventually found him. His self-released 7-inch became a hot commodity with a little hype from S-S Records founder Scott Soriano, Roland Woodbie, and the WFMU set.
De Broux turned out to be sitting on tons of quality unreleased material, the upper cusp of which finds its way onto the grooves of Cleaning the Mirror. He laid down tracks for the LP alone on borrowed 4- and 8-tracks with borrowed instruments. Because he wrote many of the songs about similar subjects and recorded them around the same time, the record possesses a certain fluidity that most basement recording collections lack. The six-song, half-hour LP also rises above most private presses in the area of recording quality, as he tones down the audible fuzz-o-meter in favor of crisp production. He appropriates all the tracks, articulating the mood with the appropriate instruments, be it a banjo or an exercise ball.
Instrumental surprises pop up throughout the record and enliven the home recordings. A distortion-heavy, psychedelic guitar line underlines the gentle acoustic jangle of “Goodbye” before melting into a blues solo from Mars’ skid row. Fire alarm bleeps burst out during “Dead End,” fanning the torched friendship lyrical theme. “Storming Heaven” breaks down with a sharp, lonesome guitar solo that adds to the song’s narrative. A saxophone solo emerges from behind plucked banjo strings on “Up the Sleeve,” heightening the desperation with an Ayler-esque skronk. “Up the Sleeve” also switches from banjo to a keyboard groove midway with a bridge that finds De Broux waxing lackadaisical. It’s a moment where the listener sees the cogs in De Broux’s thought pattern. As the off-the-cuff instrumental shifts, it feels as if Pink Reason is putting on a show just for the listener.
The intimacy of De Broux’s music proves to be Cleaning the Mirror's most striking quality. The album stands as De Broux’s personal document of a harsh period in his life wherein homelessness and drug addiction plagued him. He's created beautifully damaged melodies to soundtrack his struggle. As soon as the needle hits the first groove on “Goodbye,” De Broux invites the listener into his dark world. A cloud lingers above Cleaning the Mirror, deepening De Broux’s voice, decelerating his instrumentals, and elongating his tunes -- but a beautiful rainfall spouts from it. The tar-spill flow on tunes like “Motherfucker” and “Storming Heaven” gives him room to explore the texture of the generated moods via instrumental probing. “Storming Heaven,” in particular, utilizes this method to great effect, with a slow, repeating guitar line that resembles the soundtrack to the showdown in a film about some small-town loner in trouble. De Broux's dawdling, slurred vocals creep along eerily with the rhythm. While he sings with a slacker yowl about praying for forgiveness, the tape crackles and the vocals decay. It’s one of the few missteps, and it’s a happy accident that inadvertently underscores the narrator’s evil feeling.
The tight fusion of De Broux’s crisp poetry and unique melodies propels the album to great heights. “Motherfucker” details a decadent love affair with ragged junkie imagery. He sings, “And I’ll drink from your cup/ We’ll explore the night together/ On this old dirty rug,” to a sad acoustic guitar backdrop and ghostly vocal overhang. Even when dealing in clichés, he shines because the emotions sound honest. De Broux sings lines like “We’ve been through thick and thin” on “Dead End,” but his frantic, wavering vocals carry the song, overcoming the banality by conveying the emotion as experience. The slack industrial rhythm of “Thursh” emulates the weariness of tired lyrics like “It don’t matter anymore” with gothic organ and a hallucinogenic vocal harmony, again rising above the pratfall of a cliché.
With Cleaning the Mirror, Kevin De Broux proves worthy of the hype he received in 2006. The album works on many levels, but ultimately, the timeliness dictates the album’s success. As repeated listens consistently present a fresh, glorious perspective from which to view the album, I’d say most of the Pink Reason tunes here rank as ‘timeless’ songs that defy genre.
3. Storming Heaven
4. Dead End
6. Up the Sleeve