Brady Brock is eager to join the ranks of classic singer-songwriters. Or so it seems from the decidedly retro motif of his Warm American Sweater, an album that takes the care of reproducing 1960s artwork right down to the lengthy bio written on the back cover and the expertly reproduced wear rings that appear on particularly traveled vinyl LPs. Still, the music that is discovered when this, his sophomore release, begins to spin is of the purely modern type, a singer/songwriter album for the 21st century. In fact, it sounds a lot like emo.
Not that he ascribes to all of the clichés of that particularly ridiculed genre. Brock’s music is of a far less vitriolic sort, though he is somewhat vulnerable to the self-referential platitudes that mar the style. Still, when he over-emotes, he usually does it in a more or less dignified manner.
“What are you looking for without me there?” he pleads in the opening “I’m All Smiles,” the first in a series of songs that place Brock in the middle of a narrative melodrama where he either begs for his girlfriend to give him another chance or tells her that he’s better off without her. Of course, this wouldn’t be bad in and of itself, but Brock doesn’t really even try to get very poetic in his musings, cutting deadly straight to the point. And in a way, that element of his songwriting can be kind of compelling, inasmuch as you enjoy hearing someone utter sentences like “your heart is insane in my eyes” with utter conviction, but the artfulness of his technique has to come into question.
Musically, Brock fares better. With Pernice Brother Thom Monahan manning the boards, the arrangements are varied and lush, with classy cello and violin dotting many of the tracks and chunky, mid-tempo rockers providing textural balance. The subtle acoustic finger-picking of “Pass and Stow” is matched by the big chorus and driving guitars of “Happiness,” a song where Brock paradoxically professes his indifference for the one who has caused his heartbreak but then rambles on about her for three minutes. He’s not exactly Elliott Smith with a melody, but he’s not Chris Carraba, either, so his performance is always innocuous enough not to be obnoxious. The album’s ultimate saving grace is the production, perfectly sculpted to bring out the strengths of each song.
In the end, it’s not hard to see why Brady Brock is currently the recipient of some surprisingly gushing critical acclaim. His music cuts straight through the storylines that dominate every 20-something’s journal, and the music goes down without a struggle. Brock isn’t quite yet a distinctive talent, and it’s arguable that he would have been better served with a little more of the raw charm of his debut, 2002’s I Will Live Where Your Heart Used to Be, than he is with the sleek, careful production here, but he displays enough talent that his future career trajectory warrants watching.
Written by Matt Fink.