Brasstronaut are a Canadian band which, at least in this lowly reviewers eyes, can best (or possibly worst depending on your opinion) be described as a prog/shoegaze/dreamwave/folk group. It’s not exactly a well defined genre, but then again, Brasstronaut are a band hard to define.
‘Bounce’ opens the album, sounding like a spacious and atmospheric ode to The Smiths, with a mournful trumpet melody. Although it treads just a little too close to begin with, to being a satirical anthem of English Northern pride, this is halted thanks to militaristic percussion, coupled with ghostly vocals and atmospheric production creating a track full of warmth and tenderness.
‘Hymn For Huxley’ echoes The Kings of Convenience, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Hefner in certain respects. That intimate, slightly off-kilter folk pop these bands specialised in predominantly on show. Kings of Convenience share the bleak, haunting sound of Scandinavia, with Brasstronaut’s Great White North of Canada.
‘Fossil’ shivers with romantic melancholy, with slide guitars oozing through the record like a haunting birdcall, as spacious fantasy-esque percussion gives the track a staggered, strange rhythm. Keyboard melodies echo European downtempo acts likes Zero 7 and Air, in a gorgeous sense of informed consent.
‘Mean Sun’ conjure up Lost Souls era Doves, all breathless and echoing vocals. Vocalist Van Breeman whispers ‘Looks how mean the sun can shine’, with Kraftwerk-ian styled synths undercutting the melodies in equal parts dread and warmth, reflecting the darkness of the lyrics. All the time supported by gorgeous, haunting guitars, giving the track a timeless prog rock feel to the key changes.
Trumpets distorted to sound like a cross between whale and elephant calls develop into a drum and bass line that is distinctly reminiscent of The Cure, or Wild Nothing to reference a modern artist. Slightly off putting though is the middle eight which scuttles between a Herp Alpert inspired trip through the scales, coming across somewhat like a Spaghetti Western fused with modern drum beats, whilst Breeman’s vocals are relegated to background mumblings as the trumpet takes centre stage.
‘Revelstoke Dam’s use of layered woodwind, acoustic guitar along with the matching of the vocal melody is the most obviously Folk-tinged track, yet it manages to breakout of this genre with effective use of synths and electric keys, as the bass develops to add a sense of imminent drama to proceeding, ultimately creating the sensation that the track would not be out of place on the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are.
Very much the same can be said of ‘Falklands’, with romantic, sweeping brass melodies leading the core of the song, with guitar melodies reminiscent of Pulp’s ‘Sunrise’. All of which brings to mind Miles Kane and Alex Turner’s The Last Shadow Puppets, sharing that sense of sweeping, grandiose big band production and timelessness.
More than anything, this is a record that brims and bustles with depth, invention and drama. A spacious and unique beast, twisting genres and ideas, creating fresh sounds that are hard to define but captivate and enthral the listener. Not always a particularly easy listen, Mean Sun can be at times a dark and mysterious beast, a darkened forest of sound, it’s exterior intimidating and otherworldly, but it’s interior a gorgeous, layered forest of sound. Worth harvesting and relishing for it’s individuality.
Words: Fuzz Caminski