Sunday, 26 October 2008

Review: BigStrongBrute - Gardens In The Gutter

I've been meaning to review this album for months now (along with a number of others), so I apologise for it being a little late. BigStrongBrute is a five piece led by singer/songwriter Paul Donoughue (who has also been a member of The Rational Academy, Tragic/Athletic, and Yeow Meow), and they have proved themselves capable of chanelling the spirit of bands such as those found on Elephant 6 and K Records. Indeed, Gardens In The Gutter could be described as pleasantly lo-fi, at least as much as something can be called lo-fi in this digital age.

'Marriage' is a brief, opening track; a simple acoustic number with layered vocals. While the song isn't all that remarkable, Donoughue's refrain, "I complain too much", manages to set the mood for the album quite well. 'Annulment', on the other hand, is an enigma to me. Every part of the song seems wrong, from the rhythm section lifted from Le Tigre's 'Deceptacon', to the ridiculously corny lyrics ("I'm getting hungry like a small pack of wolves"), yet BigStrongBrute somehow manage to pull it off.

Even if 'Annulment' was the car crash that it really should be, the next track, 'Children', would be the jaws of life that saves the day. Donoughue's lyrics are at their best here ("Cross my legs like a child/Sit straight back and just fucking smile."), as is the rest of the band. The track is a dense pastiche of acoustic guitar, reverbing drums, panning vocals, and rusty brass soloing. The slow, stomping "Everything All At Once" follows on; the sound is almost Gallic, calling to mind Beirut's The Flying Club Cup. "Don't Sweat It, Honey" is another standout. The rhythm section feels to be constantly teetering on the edge of collapse, at least until the song hits the chorus. At this point every aspect of the song comes together to create a simple, yet effective sound.

The somewhat underwhelming title track is next. While Donoughue's lyrics are only slightly below-par here in comparison to the rest of the album, 'Gardens In The Gutter' is musicaly lacking. It also feels like BigStrongBrute knew this, resulting in a minute of jamming and electronic trickery being tacked onto the end of the track; the outcome being that the song detracts from the coherency of the album as a whole. 'Birds And Elephants' sees the quality of the album picking up again, with its slow, rolling, almost country sound mixing well with the 'bunch of drunk mates jamming'-vibe the song exudes (Quick disclaimer: This song was featured on the compilation, Stranded, that we recently released). The untitled closing track sees Donoughue dueting with bandmate Nadia Aguilar-Hernandez. The song is simple, yet effective, with Donoughue showcasing his playful lyrics ("I don't need no rocking chair/I can rock most anywhere, darling"), as well as a suprising dislike for Baltimore (The Wire fan maybe?).

Gardens In The Gutter can be a little shaky in places. As mentioned, the lyrics can verge on cliched and corny, the music can be patchy and even bland in places, and the recording style may put off some listenets. But the lows are not so low that they detract from the highs, and the latter outnumbers the former here. Donoughue is a promising lyrical talent, and, with time, BigStrongBrute may grow to meet his potential. For a self-recorded debut, Gardens In The Gutter is an excellent effort, and hopefully a launching pad for further releases from the band.

Update: Apparently the closing track is a cover of an Entrance song. Thanks Joel for pointing that out!


Cam said...

i think one of things with this record is it seems to have been made when BSB was transforming from its previous electronic form into the new folky form, which kind of means there are a few curveballs thrown at various stage. i'm thinking the next one will be more cohesive, which i imagine will be to its benefit.

they're a lot of fun to see live.

Joel said...

I really really like this album. One of my favourite releases.

A few points: on this record BSB is nearly entirely Paul, not a band. The last song is a cover of a Entrance song.

I really like most of the lyrics on the record too. sonically it is all over the place - with acoustic tracks, electronic drums in places and cheap lead guitar lines, but it works for me