way back in those lazy hazy crazy days of summer, when Beirut was neither ‘war-torn’ nor ‘album of the year’ (love these weary ole hack clichés), this jiffy bag arrived with an unlabelled CD-R in an open plastic sleeve with an under-inked b/w copy of some homemade sleeve artwork and a note saying from brenda with love. I played it once or twice and thought, yeah, OK, a decent bitsa band – bitsa Sonic Youth, bitsa MBV, Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, Mogwai, GY!BE, maybe a few more – then got distracted by something or other else – Beirut probably.
I’ve long since given up on Beirut (the band, that is – and so will you, once Christmas is over and those tiresome Pitchfork people have pitched their latest dreary instant internet sensation), but brenda stayed, and stayed, and continues staying, until it’s got to the point when finally I have to admit to myself that a totally unknown band (outside their home town), unsigned, unmanaged, and – it would seem, from the touching begging notes on their MySpace (gissagig, mate) – unhired except at the occasional shoebox convention in Oxford or Southampton – has surreptitiously wormed itself so deeply into my affections that it rates up there with the Mogwais and the Manyfingers and the Marconi Unions and the Stereolabs in my personal end-of-year best-of list.
so – in breach of all of the active protocols of the proper music sites (sue me) – here I am talking about a self-produced mini-album that’s only four tracks and thirty minutes long and that you won’t find on iTunes no matter how hard you look (you can buy it, though – keep reading).
brenda is a five-piece from Bournemouth – I kid you not – Bournemouth, which, like Lytham St Annes and Broadstairs, is one of those bastions of right-wing retirees whose average resident is eighty-seven and thinks the rot at the heart of Britain began when National Service ended in 1960. God only knows what brenda’s story is, but there you have it – one of the most promising bands in the UK comes from Bournemouth. that’s so wrong, but I guess it had to happen sometime.
the sound is referenced to all in that list up there, and more: a lineup of two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards/electronics/singer that can take the same song from singer-songwriter intimacy to huge, faux-anthemic set-piece and back with no seeming effort and with no prisoners taken. they’ve been together for five years. that shows in the tightness and the ease of the performance, although there was clearly an inclination towards Muse-y-ness in an earlier manifestation that’s evidenced in an online-only release (Lament [A Faded Photograph]) from 2005 that I’m glad they moved on from (although the kind of shrapnel-pocked sound-wall constructed at the climax of a piece such as Sub Rosa, the album’s astonishing seven-minute closer, must have to be shoe-horned quite painfully into the boxes they’re presently performing in).
four tracks only, but each one a standalone standout, each with qualities quite separate from the others, making of the whole a breathtakingly huge musical quarry that, the more you excavate, the more you discover, the better it gets. from the opening bars of the opening track – Last Tape – there’s that spine-crawling feeling you get whenever something spectacular – a thunderstorm, the routing of a rabid president, the Big Brother results – is about to happen: a chugging six-bar riff that bespeaks both a cool that surpasseth all cucumberliness and a self-confidence bordering on Latin-dictator-arrogance (which is never a bad thing in a rock band). and lead singer Joe Mirza fronts with a beguiling melancholic authority that sits somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Guy Garvey, employing the sort of retro-potty-poet lyrics that go off-the-scale intriguing if you’re into the sort of massively (‘… my mirrored mobius desire uncoils to sweet embrace …’) intriguing lyrics associated with guys like Morrison and Cave.
not the least impressive aspect of this impressive release, though, is the production. self-release usually comes with a wonky raft of technical compromises, excessive knob-twiddling and self-indulgence that operates in direct proportion to the limits of cash-strapped studio time, but not here, not by a long chalk. the recording, mixing and engineering of this little gem bears as distinctive a sonic signature as an Albini or a Godrich, which makes you wonder, if they can get it this right on their own … ?
brenda’s MySpace site is at http://www.myspace.com/brenda, where they can be heard and – more’s to the point – the album can be bought online at Square Records.
now – I have here a cute little fluffy kitten called – oh, let’s say – Brenda. No, Paris.
hear Paris purr.
so here’s the deal: I fully expect to see these guys doing the Union Chapel – Olympia – Beacon Theatre – Shibuya-Ax circuit within the next eighteen months, producing their debut album proper on Fat Cat or PIAS, and spending the summer of 2008 at Glastonbury, Coachella, Roskilde, and Benicàssim – at the very least.
or the kitten gets it.
so why are you still here?