Bless These Sounds Under The City is ‘On the Brink of Life’

fullsizerender By Shirley Griffith

October 23, 2016

A few short years ago I watched a young, bushy haired man grip his acoustic and fight against his anxieties to take the stage at the Evening Muse’s legendary Monday open mic night. In the two songs he played, the nerves evaporated as a big, friendly grin and delicate, masterful chords took their place.

Albert Strawn became a regular highpoint at the open mic, growing artistically in the intimate Muse atmosphere. His guitar work was multi-layered and more intricate each week, but it was easiest to get caught up in Strawn’s breathtaking vocals. The range and emotion conveyed in each song raised you out of your seat and into the clouds. Strawn has never been one to be content in stagnation, so he reached out for a way to further this blooming talent. Within the next few weeks, he brought along an equally skilled multi-instrumentalist and new friend, Derrick Hines and Bless These Sounds Under The City was born. I never took chemistry in high school, but what I witnessed so blatantly the first time Strawn and Hines played together was the fine line between science and magic. All the songs that I’d become familiar with were now elevated through Hines’s unique beats and soft harmonizing.

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Albert Strawn (left) and Derek Hines (right). Photo by Sara Woodmansee

On the Brink of Life incorporates Radiohead circa OK Computer sparks (which is no surprise since both Hines and Strawn have cited Thom Yorke as a major influence in their music); however, there are stylish designs within the songs that charm throughout the release. Balking at genre, textures are experimented with to make this release more multi-faceted than 2014’s self-titled release. Bless These Sounds Under The City has certainly grown in the past two years and the arrangements on the new album are compelling without feeling unnecessary.  

For starters, On the Brink of Life brings to light Hines’s hip-hop techniques which have not been used before now. “A Clever Disguise,” employs a smooth flow of bars that weave a story on top of simple staircase beats and a swiping piano foundation, bringing to mind the likes of MF DOOM or Gorillaz. “Suspended in Hypnosis” has Hines spitting on top of a cold electronic beat and fuzzed snare hits to create an extraterrestrial landscape. I am very fond of these two tracks in particular because they show both members stepping out of their usual comfort zone and working together to build an undeniably smart and distinctive song. It showcases the entire fabric of BTSUTC: communication and partnership.

In contrast, there are a few songs with a woodsy atmosphere like the graceful flute-carried “Salt In The Waves” or the circling, dainty “Spirochetes,” in which the use of piano is a gentle heat dance of haze flitting across a blacktop after a light rain storm. The title track “On The Brink Of Life” subtly brings back the flute and woodwind instruments to create a delicate, moss-covered waltz.

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Albert Strawn (left) and Derek Hines (right). Photo by Sara Woodmansee

Lyrically, “Warming the Frozen Star” and “Whatever You Become” are breathtaking. Strawn’s vocals on “Warming” are earnest against the simple guitar and easy, drifting words like “there’s only a graveyard of pianos where our love used to be.” It is a touching song about a lost love and the reluctant acceptance of the situation. Similarly, on “Whatever You Become” (possibly my favorite off the album), the lyrics are so striking because the melodic hums and warm chords cradle love and put it to rest. The song is a final declaration, without pain or any agitation, just a patient softness.

On the Brink of Life is warm and layered, perfect against the upcoming stillness of a grey winter. The album as an entirety reminds me of a tree; breathing slowly at its own timeless pace, and expanding from both roots and branches. The meditative breathing culminates with the last track, a full minute of patient, cinematic descending.

‘On the Brink of Life’ is out on November 1st and you can purchase here.

Listen to “Silhouettes of Songbirds” and “Whatever You Become” by Bless These Sounds Under The City.

Follow Bless These Sounds Under The City on facebook and twitter.

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