Adam Bricks, Relations
Alright, so I definitely need to quit referring to — and thinking of, beyond that — Adam Bricks as a folksinger. Because with Relations, he’s pretty much taken that label and lit it on fire, smiling, and then roared on past its accepted boundaries like he’s trying to craft something completely different. And yes, that’s a very, very good thing.
Best of all, I think he knows exactly what he’s doing. There’s a very ambitious feel to this album, far more than with his previous outing, the excellent City Songs; it shoots much further and higher, aiming for some seriously lofty heights and damn near hitting ’em. The songs on Relations feel very much like songs you already should know, like they’ve been hiding out in the back of your subconscious mind for your entire life and you just never knew how to get to them.
The proof is partly in what these songs to bring to mind, at least for me. As the album unfurls, I catch myself thinking of Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, and Roy Orbison, that kind of classic, songwriter’s-songwriter kind of artist. Bricks isn’t quite on par with those folks just yet, it’s true, but he’s doing his damnedest to get there, and it shows, beautifully.
The music itself breaks pretty firmly with the guy’s guy-and-a-guitar folk past, moving towards much more of a “full band” sound despite still being very much a “these are my songs” kind of deal. The instrumentation swings smoothly from jangly guitars and muted drums to sweeping, gorgeous horns, not to mention fuzzy-edged Western-sounding guitars, pedal steel, excellent organ parts, and a freaking glockenspiel, for crying out loud, and it’s all put to wonderful use.
That ambition I mentioned earlier comes through in the lyrics themselves, to boot — right from the start, in “Something Real,” Bricks declares his dissatisfaction, that he’s “been sitting in Austin / looking for something real” but only finding too-easy living and softness. He’s looking for something truer, something grittier, and wants to go out out and feel life at its most honest.
A lot of the songs seem to echo that point, as well. Despite the instrumentation and overall laidback feel, there’s a heart of darkness to much of Relations, whether it’s the piano-heavy, slow-moving anti-torch song pop of “I Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand” (which reminds me vocally of Athlete, and which has a crazy resemblance to “Imagine” that nagged at my brain for the first several listens before finally clicking in) or the angry-sad vitriol of Sebadoh-esque indie-rock track “Sad Song.” Even “Til the Moon Is Full,” with its melancholy swing, gets strangely dark and murky towards the end.
I’m impressed, as well, by the ease with which Bricks pulls all this off; he plays and sings like it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to be doing. “If You Go Away,” for one, is nicely languid and easy, despite its underlying sadness, and “The Only One,” possibly the catchiest damn song on here, is a no-frills, straightforward chunk of jangle-pop that feels as tossed-out (and perfect) as the best Replacements tunes.
The high point comes with the aptly-named “Midnight Waltz,” which is slightly country-tinged and utterly gorgeous. It’s somber and bleak, full of grim pain and sorrow, and it combines the majesty of Band of Horses as their peak with the solemn grace of Alejandro Escovedo, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. The first time I listened, all I could say after it finished was, “Well, wow. I think I’d better listen to that one again, right now.”
And to close things out, Bricks shifts upwards into “Just Like Mine,” a bombastic-yet-tasteful track that drags out all those different instruments and throws them into the ring at once. Even with all that, though, it’s his voice that holds focus — it belies his relative youth, the voice of a man who’s seen more of the world and its hurt than he really should’ve had to.
If Bricks truly did go looking for something real, it sounds like he found it, indeed, and then he brought it back to share it with the rest of us. Thanks for that, sir.
(Feature photo by Liz Shear.)