When you listen to music basically all day, everyday like I do, it's pretty rare that you come across a truly unique sound, but that's exactly what I thought when I stumbled upon Martin Crane's project Brazos' outstanding song and video "How The Ranks Was Won". The band's orchestral, groove heavy pop recalls David Byrne's African influences and when combined with Crane's overtly literary lyrics make for a very original sound.
Brazos has an impressively large sound for having just three members, with drummer Ian Chang and bassist Spencer Zahn adeptly fleshing out Crane's songs very adeptly and live both stay very busy fleshing out the arrangements. On record the songs have a sense of being on the verge of breaking out into a dance party and live they get there, almost sneaking up on you.
The show I caught at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn was an impressive affair filled with bobbing heads and smiling faces, which seems to be a common reaction to Brazos' music. The band was playing the last show of a month long residency and was in top form, traversing Crane's compositions nimbly and skillfully. By the time the band closed with "How The Ranks Was Won" even I was doing a little bit of dancing... something resembling the twist crossed with an Irish jig I suppose (I was a few High Lifes deep at this point).
Brazos' new record,Saltwater out May 28th on Dead Oceans, seems to be a logical step forward for the project and features the band pushing their sound and ideas further than their debut Phosphorescent Blues. It's a big, shimmering burst of thoughtful and joyous pop that is bound to turn some heads this summer. I talked for a bit with Crane via email after the show about Brazos' live show, his influences and the band's approach to the new record.
DF: Phosphorescent Blues was based around an Adrienne Rich poem, did any similar ideas or themes shape the new record?
MC: Yeah I read Moby Dick and that was a big thing for me. The ocean not as a place to smoke weed and surf but as a place where everything unnecessary is stripped away.
DF: Any particular musical influences on the record? The songs seem very groove orientated...
MC: I was listening to long repetitive songs from the 70s. Pharaoh Sanders, Can. You could say they influence the pacing. I wanted to have something that was teeming underneath the vocals. Adapting that poem on the last record, and overall trying to write every song so that it could stand up on paper, it makes my vocal phrasing jump around. In the best moments, I want the lyrics and the vocals to sound like a solo instrument that's going off, kind of like flow. You have to have good rhythm underneath that to support it.
DF: The buoyant feeling and rhythms of the first record feel as though they are ready to explode into a full on Fela Cuti dance party at any moment, and "How The Ranks Was Won" also echoes this quite a bit (live it pretty much did explode). Would you say this sound indicative of the record overall? Would you even say that sentiment is accurate?
MC: The record is different than our live show. it's much more texture oriented, whereas our live show the basic elements are at the forefront. everything's more exposed. I would love to make a live album. I think as a band we're almost good enough. We've grown a lot as a band, and we are much better able to follow each other now to make the music breath.
DF: I was very impressed with the depth of sounds the band was able to come up with live having only three members and your bassist seemed incredibly busy up there. Talk for a minute bout the band's live aesthetic and communication
MC: Haha, yeah, Spencer is a wizard. Ian is a sick drummer. They are really amazing. At our best moments, we try to play together with dynamics, and i think that makes the bigger parts feel bigger and the smaller parts feel smaller. Limiting yourself also makes for more creative solutions. But at the end of the day, a good song, good playing, and good sounds should feel satisfying no matter how many or how few elements you have.
DF: What terrible fate has befallen your guitar? It looked mighty taped-up at the show, I'm wondering how it still sounded so good...
MC: It feeds back all the time so we taped it that night and it started to work. I kind of like it.
DF: Thanks again, and good luck with the new record!
MC: Thank you!
For info on Brazos, including how to order Saltwater and tourdates, check the band's website