Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A strong candidate for best album of the year. Dan Bryk‘s new cd is a triumph of intelligence and wit, an oasis in a world full of idiots. It’s Costelloesque in the best possible way: lush layers of glimmering guitar and keys, song structures with a vintage 60s pop feel – catchy hooks and anthemic choruses  – and murderously smart, corrosive lyrics. Bryk delivers them calmly and casually, only cutting loose when he really needs to drive a point home. Otherwise, the songs speak for themelves. Bryk does not suffer fools gladly: he knows that American Idol is theatre of cruelty (and he’s not above cruelty himself, uh uh), he can feel the surrounding air reaching boiling point and he’s sussed the powers that be for who they are, a bunch of boring, greedy bastards. That’s a very prosaic description that doesn’t do justice to Bryk’s powers of observation or his gift for explaining them and making connections. The album title, like most of the lyrics here, is a pun: this is a probably semi-fictitious, corruscatingly bitter, Aimee Mann-style narrative about a rocker who never made it. Bryk has nothing but contempt for the music business and the entertainment-industrial complex as a whole, fueled by the knowledge that by all rights, the tuneful pop songs he writes deserve to be on the radio. And he knows they won’t be, on American commercial radio, at least, until Clear Channel goes bankrupt [memo to Bryk – dude, you’re Canadian – the CBC mandates mega airplay for homegrown artists – that’s a start…]. Additional venom is reserved for the “artists” who buy into the system: one of them Bryk wants to electricute, the others he’d merely bludgeon.

This album doesn’t waste time getting started with Treat of the Week, a caustic look at a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame. It’s just as deliciously brutal as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack:

The kids are sitting down hanging off each tortured word

…falling from your lips like polished turds

And you’re thinking the kids are all right

I say crank up the houselights

You’ve got nothing much to say but you say it really well

With your sad tales of irony and the love gone sour to sell

Now the spotlight falls slowly on the kid from Soft Rock Town

It’s the next stop on the gold train to become…Jackson Browne

Next up is Discount Store, a happy, bouncy, deadpan vintage Britpop style number sung from the point of view of a kid quizzically watching the depression set in:

…The clock needs punching, the man is watching and the union is gone for good

With all this freedom how come there’s no more fun left in the neighborhood?

The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: “I know you wish I’d be more patient, cute and quirky and more complacent,” Bryk rails, and he can’t resist another slap at the record labels: ” I know it’s not a public service, supplying the freakshow to the circus.” Apologia is a hilarious solo piano ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to buck the system.

The best song on the album, and maybe the best song of the year, is City Of… If there’s anyone alive fifty years from now, they’ll refer to this deceptively soaring anthem as the definitive look at what music was like in 2009. Ruthlessly, Bryk pans around a Toronto of the mind, sometime after dark and then begins shooting, first the indie kids at the Constantines show, then the rest:

In the back of the legion hall the Goofs are playing faster

Turning up after every song til their heads are iced with plaster

The soundtrack of subjugation to to our friendly foreign masters

Downstairs in the bar the laptop kids are mashing

Some ungodly medley of Morbidox and Eria Fachin

If I didn’t think they’d love it I’d give them twenty lashes

Street Team is a spot-on, Orwellian analysis of how marketers attempt to Balkanize music audiences, set to a clever, decidedly un-Magical Mystery Tour theme perfect for the end of the zeros. My Alleged Career is sort of like Phil Ochs’ My Life. Its recurrent theme of “Please go away” is both a scream – “Can I get some time alone?” Bryk seems to say – as well as succinct distillation of how his music’s been received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a beautifully orchestrated number with watery Leslie speaker guitar; a very funny, stubborn song whose interminable outro turns out to be a very good joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad. “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry, ” Bryk warns. Fans of all the best songwriters from throughout the ages – Elvis Costello, Bryk’s labelmate Amy Allison, LJ Murphy, Aimee Mann, Paula Carino, Steve Kilbey, ad infinitum – are in for a treat. Look for this one somewhere at the top of our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

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August 24, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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