Local Project 23 saw a visit from Brooks Bracken about his new project, Umbrella Blvd., and the new album, A Wretch Like Me. After hearing all about the making of, we decided to give the album an in depth look, track-by-track, note-for-note.
Back Home — An oddly comforting piano melody arises from a gravely synth drone just seconds before vocals, strings, percussion, and guitars elaborately build rapidly and strategically, in and out setting the tone for a very meticulous record.
The Bad Book — Not a moment after the opening track dissolves, panned guitars kick the door open to teach us all how to get to Hell. Thrashing riffs, acute harmonies, and creepy keyboard couplets are triumphantly resolved by a punk rock hymn of a chorus. Cello arrives in time to remind us that, luckily, the track is not yet over. Bracken plays the role of a Freddie Mercury/George Jetson hybrid as we arrive at the harmony-laden bridge with the refrain, “Is anybody else’s plan to the hell of this planet?” The track crescendos into a Muse-like cascade with a guitar solo reimagining “Come All Ye Faithful” before it crashes back into the initial onslaught. Wear your seatbelt for this one.
Bermuda Circle — To give the illusion relaxation, Bracken settles for an eerie progression of bells and floor toms to open this aquatic adventure. Piano plucks pretend to keep time and order as bleeps and tape delays swells collide beneath the schizophrenic call and response refrain. Once the cornucopia of sound effects dies down, footsteps and latches temp the curiosity before a loud bang leads into the ticking of The Old Disappearing Act. Fit for the opening of any macabre romance, this track jumps out as the album’s first single. In only two and a half minutes, Bracken puts all his cards on the table, focusing the different quirks of arrangement seen in the first three tracks with extreme precision. The track ends just as it started, with a mysterious and reverberating bang.
The Fold opens with more deceitful strings, switching from soothing to ominous in an instant. Pitter patters and busy piano arpeggios generate irony in their juxtaposition with Brackens crooning. The track stands alone with or without the theater of the album as a whole. It fades out just before the refrain loses its grandeur. Golden Bones sneaks right in with a choppy two-step guitar and the words, “Just don’t open your eyes.” Its creepy but with a dangerously exciting sort of charm that only grows in its appeal once the detuned mandolin hits the scene. Another melting pot of harmonies and strings make up the bridge before a machine gun snare drum takes us to a Queens of the Stone Age brand of an ending.
Darkness on Earth takes Umbrella Blvd. to church with all the organ for which a moon-bound ladyboy could ever hope. Once the lunar invitation concludes, horns and a very patriotic guitar solo tear the roof off the joint and remind us that we’re still here to rock. Right Hand Red opens with the sort of synth that makes you want to dress Jeff Bridges up in a big glow stick. Bracken keeps it 31st century, letting unapologetic pianos and break beats dance around the driving square wave progressions.
As the previous track marches out, Ghost brings sci-fi to the frontlines. The heavily-modulated synth riff is broken by demanding guitar thrashes and a raw vocal melody that demand authority. “There’s a ghost living inside of you and it wants to live more than you do” makes for yet another exploration of the term “dangerously exciting.” The album closes with a recollection of all the album’s crucial elements. As a benediction, Slowly Burning keeps Bracken in his element of abstract rhythms building up toward lush harmonic textures, of major drifting into minor, of fun bleeding into fear.
As a collective, A Wretch Like Me is an exciting journey into the mind of a complex creature. As quirky or random as many of its elements may seem, the album leaves room for infinite speculation on the possibilities of sound. Whether you’ve come to laugh or cry, Umbrella Blvd. has a home for you somewhere in A Wretch Like Me. Get the album here.