Brief Candles - They Live We Sleep Review
by Patrick Muldowney
At antiMusic, we get a pretty steady flow of great material to review, so it is not common for me to seek outside materials. Brief Candles is a special exception to this practice. One night, I happened upon their music halfway across the country, through the wonders of the internet, and after hearing about twenty seconds of "The Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes," realized that this was a band I needed to review. As fate would have it, the timing was perfect, and the exact song that drew me in, was the first song on an upcoming album. So without further ado, let me explain why Wisconsin is harboring a beautiful secret, known as Brief Candles.
They Live We Sleep, the most recent release on Latest Flame Records, by Brief Candles, falls in line with some of the better Shoegazer Pop albums created, with an existential tinge to their songs, manifested by airy effects. Other than the songwriting, what makes this album special, and unique, is the guitar work of Jenifer Boniger and Kevin Dixon. From the first moments, to the last moments, of the disc, the guitars have such a commanding presence they provide the catch, often over the vocals. This approach is a bit perplexing, given the genre they inhabit, but the admitted influence of a band like Hum, helps explain this quandary. Thankfully, the contradiction which exists within their sound might beg the question: Is staring at my shoes a necessity, or might there be other ways to enjoy Brief Candles?
"The Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes," has one of the greatest openings to any song, with the sharp echo of a guitar that sonically peaks and fades to provide a layered effect to the song. The sounds created by this guitar are so wonderful, that a single track of that, sans any vocals or instruments, would have been enough to open the album. Given that, the rest of the band fills in nicely with a Doves-like effort, to make this worthy single material. The only issue with "The Patron Saint…," and it becomes a similar issue throughout the album, is the ability to hear vocals. Buried vocals can be effective at times, but, at some point, it always leaves the listener straining to understand the message. Plus, from what is clear lyrically, a higher level in the mix would only enrich the listening experience.
Another standout track among numerous gems is "National Dream Registry", which is the perfect title for an anthem in this genre. It also reveals the gender benefits of the band, in that this song is delivered vocally by Dixon, who appears in the mix more clearly than Boniger. The variation between the two throughout the album increases its appeal and depth. "National Dream Registry", with acoustic prevalence, also allows the rhythm section to be a driving force, from the tom build-up of Jake Bohannan to warn of the upcoming distortion at the beginning, to the pleasant progression of Drew Calvett throughout each verse.
One song that will have relevance to the "We Love the 80s" crew is "Space Age Love Song", the only cover on the album. I'm one for original music, but they rock out this Flock of Seagulls tune, and make it their own, much like Yo La Tengo has repeatedly done with covers. On a sadder note, I checked out some pictures of the band, and not a single member has the Flock hairdo. One picture has a guitarist in a chicken suit though, which may be enough to overcome this shortcoming. I even heard rumor that during the live performance of this song, anyone caught with hands in pockets and head down gets pecked repeatedly. The Dexie's Midnight Runners dance is a minimal expectation, if not "The Safety Dance".
They Live We Sleep does not have a weak moment. It is an album that is a credit to its craft, filled with intelligence, beauty, and unexpected energy. Brief Candles should prove to be a paradoxical name for a long-standing band.
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