Monday, 11 May 2009

Posthumous Success - Tom Brosseau

After the sparse arrangements of Cavalier Tom Brosseau returns with a fuller and more joyous release. Posthumous Success partly abandons the solo recordings of old for a full band lineup which lends the album a sense of verve and immediacy. However the album is interspersed with sparse solo numbers that eschew over elaboration, settling on a melancholy evocation of mood and timbre. Half the tracks were recorded in upstate New York by Adam Pierce and the other by Ethan Rose in Portland, Oregon, but are sequenced so that the album becomes a seamless whole.

Brosseau's voice quavers above the mix, occasionally cracking with emotion, weaving itself around the gentle finger-picked guitar and additional instrumentation. The intimacy of the recording creates a wonderful live sensation and this sense of authenticity lends an understated gravitas to the recording.

The album is bookended by two versions of “Favourite Color Blue”, a clever narrative device that reprises the themes, both lyrical and aural, of the album. The opening version is sparse while the closing version adds oscillating, undulating synthesis to create new spaces and areas of melody. But throughout it all Brosseau's vibrato vocal and rustic guitar lines shine through, creating a dialogue with the opening version.

Musically he is closer to contemporary troubadours such as Bright Eyes and Willy Mason, but thematically he is positioned alongside the anti-folk movement. The ability to combine both disciplines is something Nick Cave has long been a master of, and in the gradually developing verses of “Favourite Colour Blue” Brosseau combines a similar sense of devilry and irreverence, romantic innocence with carnal desire, poetic observations of banal, everyday occurrences with more spiritual considerations.

The traditional aspect of his songs would leave us to believe that he is a man desperately out of time, a renegade from the Winsonian Anthology of Folk Music, but his influences are more contemporaneous than this as he adds vocal textures and subtle electronic touches (“Boothill”) alongside processed drums and lo-fi fuzz guitars (“You Don't Know My Friends”). “Youth Decay” is just Brosseau and an electric guitar, gently coaxing minor key cadences from his instrument. “Chandler” adds splashes of colour to the sonic palette but the overall impression is the same – the faint tremolo, ultra clean guitar tone and reinvention of 50's harmony group songs aren't a million miles away from what Bradford Cox is achieving with his varied musical output. And when he delivers lines like 'I want to drive her to Reno, in a stolen El Camino' the air of railroads, crossroads and dusty saloon bars is inescapable.

Brosseau remains insightful at all times, his songs full of small town melodrama, downtrodden yet celebratory and insurgent. The album's title is a faded joke, full of careworn bonhomie, borrowed from a biography of Albert Camus. There is a dichotomy at play in Brosseau's work. Fittingly for a boy from Grand Forks, North Dakota that has settled in Los Angeles he doesn't know whether he wants to make us laugh out loud or cry at the rich vein of emotion that courses through this body of work. Posthumous Success sees Brosseau begin to make sense of the rich musical tapestry and cultural inheritance to which he belongs with confidence and skill.
This article was originally produced for To read the music review of Posthumous Success by Tom Brosseau on the site please click on the article title.

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