January 27, 2004

Brief Candles "Brief Candles"

I can’t listen to this CD without daydreaming the same scenario every time. I’m visiting vocalist Jen Boniger’s house. The walls are blanketed with Ride, Mercury Rev and Swervedriver posters. Nothing about the house-- the furniture, the clothes in the closets, her friends sitting on the couch-- looks like it’s changed since the mid-1990s. As I look through her CD collection she stands behind me and by explanation half-apologizes, “Yeah, I’ve never really fully recovered after Kevin Shields shelved the final My Bloody Valentine record 9 years ago. I just can’t bring myself to buy anything recorded or released since then.”

While it’s instantly obvious that Brief Candles, who hail physically from Illinois and Wisconsin, hails sonically from early 90’s British dream pop, it’s by no means a bad thing. In fact this particular trip back in time for the ear is pretty refreshing. Even the production style sounds outdated. You get the idea that their sound engineer has never heard of Pro Tools. There were definitely some production choices that were poorly made-- you should never, ever, ever put a flange on a bass guitar, for one-- and it couldn’t have hurt to skip out on, say, the color traycard and put the same amount of money toward a better mastering job. But the over-all feel of the production is well-suited for reminiscing about the blurry videos of the early ‘90s shoegazer scene. Ah, those were sweet days.

Though Brief Candles’ self-titled debut sounds deceptively old, there are also many ways it sounds exactly like what it is: the first offering from a young band. A short scan of the biography on their website reveals a change of cast members that must eclipse even the turnover rate at a downtown McDonald’s. This explains the blurb in the liner notes that says Jake Bohannon is the new drummer and Kevin Dixon, who played drums on the album, is the new guitarist. Perhaps this lack of solidity in personnel is the cause of the sometimes sloppy playing on the album, but the slip-ups are never extreme and sometimes even add charm to the songs. It’s just obvious the band has room to grow.

What’s really important is the songs themselves, and they are great. Brief Candles wins points for dynamic contrast, sometimes in sudden bursts and sometimes in subtle swells. The songs are long but structured well. Instead of dragging on repetitively the changes are staged in such a way to keep the ear’s interest at all times. The guitar tones vacillate between angry storms and dreamy sound washes. The vocals are tastefully recorded low, because if nothing else the engineer knew that’s how you mix a shoegazer band. The occasional stumble on the drums or out-of-tune guitar or vocal note is forgivable. This is a budding space rock band whose potential is louder than the actual sounds on the record. Let’s hope their career is anything but a flitting shadow. Let’s hope that they forcibly seize the bassist’s flange pedal and destroy it, that their drummer stays on, and that we will get to hear them mature on future releases.

--Jeremy Yocum

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