Steve Brodsky Here’s to the Future

[Hydra Head; 2010]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie crossover singer-songwriter
Others: Cave In, Modest Mouse, Elliot Smith

Stephen Brodsky first garnered attention in the early 1990s for his brutal delivery and devilishly clever lyrics in Cave In. The group’s dedication to its craft was legendary, maintaining a hectic pace of touring and recording much like contemporaries Converge. In 1997, Brodsky could even be found playing bass for their brothers in arms. However, over the next few years, as Converge’s music grew harder and more beautifully fractured, Cave In elected to diversify their sound, incorporating influences as varied as The Beatles and Radiohead. They’ve been on quite the tear lately. Both 2005’s Perfect Pitch Black and last year’s Planets of Old EP were exceptional, continuing the brilliance promised on earlier efforts like 2000’s Jupiter and 2003’s underrated Antenna.

Brodsky’s solo career followed similar cues, adopting an even lighter and decidedly pop approach. Although his tongue-in-cheek lyrics often channeled Elvis Costello or Todd Rundgren, the serious devotion to his swirling vision for the music saved it from becoming a melodrama of widening influences and sarcastic quips. His last solo endeavor, Stephen Brodsky’s Octave Museum, shed many of the imitative tendencies of his previous solo outings, with Brodsky finally owning the hazy indie-pop alter ego that he fashioned in the image of Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock. Brodsky’s latest release, Here’s to the Future — available only as a limited cassette and digital download — raises the bar even higher.

The album begins with a low fidelity drone, eluding to Led Zeppelin’s “In the Evening”. The tension builds until one begins to actually expect the bombast of that song, but instead Brodsky’s distinct warble enters, enticing listeners to prepare for the madness to follow. From there, album standout “Human Contagious” lumbers up from a gauzy haze of keyboards and studio effects to a resounding acoustic counter-melody. With his voice set slightly deeper than his normal register, Brodsky croons, “Any time it’s just me and I’m not saying who/ I have to be like you, we have to be the same/ A wanna be is no way to be.” The chorus is catchy, and despite the esoteric nature of Cave In/Brodsky albums, this could easily penetrate the mainstream. Brodsky’s lyrics seem to hint that it won’t be that easy, however. He chides those who’ve chosen any path other than a singular pursuit of one’s own vision, saying, “Come on offer another of your traits/ Conversation waits, your contribution’s late/ I see no visual individual.”

Other songs invoke similar themes. “Mass Appeal” further defines Brodsky’s thoughts on achieving, or rather avoiding, its title’s namesake, while “Retail Therapy” outright decries its subject matter. It’s not all heady advice and calls to the artistic life, though. On “Spellng Bee,” the deliberately misspelled farce of a song splitting the album’s makeshift arrangements with a well-timed moment of flippancy, Brodsky depicts a friend painting: “Beer koozy red just because you can/ It don’t mean you should/ Well I did, ‘cause I would.” It’s also a good example of one of the twisted lyrical offerings for which Brodsky has come to be known.

In his main gig, Brodsky’s an extreme metal vocalist, one of the true principals in the genre. His solo career, however has suffered through fits and starts. Thankfully, Brodsky’s return to Aaron Turner’s Hydra Head Records in 2005 seems to have served as a catalyst for his maturation as an artist. And by delivering an album that exceeds expectations, as Here’s to the Future certainly does, Brodsky shows that he’s ready to take the next steps in this direction. While it doesn’t break new ground, it does what all good albums should: it transports the listener to a different plane. Like so many of the releases coming from Hydra Head these days, it is well-imagined, deftly-performed, and deeply penetrating.

Links: Steve Brodsky - Hydra Head

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