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(Black and Greene Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/6/2006)
One often wonders what would famous musical figures of the past be doing if they were alive today. Mozart was famously precocious, and the biographies of classical music figures are full of accounts of composers being solitary geniuses obsessed with detail. The music they created, remember, was the popular music of their day. Translate that to 20th or 21st Century pop music, and perhaps you might have artists like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra, and of course Paul McCartney and John Lennon. More recently there have been some notable orchestral solo popsters like Sufjan Stephens, Sean Bigler of the band Epigene, and Chris Hicken of the band Cantinero whose recorded work is largely on an individual basis.
This week, we have another notable pop music virtuoso, who has just released a remarkable debut album: 23-year-old Bryan Scary, whose CD is called The Shredding Tears. It's in the classic mold of sophisticated, almost theatrical pop with all the sonic conglomerations of the Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles, the Electric Light Orchestra and some Pet Sounds-period Beach Boys.
Bryan Scary is a native of the Chicago suburbs, and grew up in a musical family. He says that his mother insisted that he take piano lessons since she apparently knew he would not be good in sports. Scary came to New York to attend New York University to study film production. But he also was drawn into making increasingly sophisticated home demos of his music. The Shredding Tears started taking shape about three years ago. He worked at it while in school, playing all the instruments and doing all the vocals. Eventually, a small West-Coast record label took an interest in Scary's music, so he decided to replace the so-called fake synthesized drums on his recordings with real drums as played by Jeremy Black of the band Apollo Sunshine. Scary said the process, done on a tight schedule, was a bit nerve-wracking to him, but the result is something that sounds a lot more organic. Black also can sound a lot like Ringo Starr when he wants to.
The result is a generous, hour-plus collection of 15 songs that sound at times as if they fell out of a time-warp that threw the Beatles, the Beach Boys, ELO, and little of the Rolling Stones into a blender, capturing the kind of innocent and honest, but ambitious sound full of catchy melodies and little musical surprises, from sound effects to theatrical vocals to humor in the lyrics. It's a downright fun album that also impresses for its sheer audacity. It certainly sounds as if Scary spent perhaps hundreds of hours arranging and recording all the individual instrumental and vocal parts by himself. As a vocalist, Scary is also impressive in his range and chameleon-like ability to put on the nasal twang of a John Lennon, layering on sweet falsetto Beach-Boys-style parts, and dropping down for some low vocals, and even tossing off a momentary Bob Dylan imitation.
Leading off is a piece called A Stab at the Sun, which establishes Scary's pop symphonic sound. The track goes through half a dozen musical scenes in its just under five minutes. One can hear Scary's influences well, Sgt. Pepper's era Beatles, ELO and Beach Boys style vocals. <<>>
The Lessons Learned is a bit more laid-back but no less sophisticated, with its somewhat theatrical sound. The waltz tempo and some of the production touches also conjure the Fab Four. <<>>
Another little pop symphony is a track called The Ceiling on the Wall, which also features some of Scary's cleverest and most intriguing lyrics. <<>>
Another little several-act musical suite is The Little Engine Who Couldn't (Think Straight). The lyrics like many on this CD are entertaining but a bit cryptic. <<>>
The Up and Over Stairwell also synthesizes textures from the Beatles, Beach Boys and ELO, and is full of clever sonic bits like sound effects. One can hear hints, especially of the Beatles With a Little Help from My Friends. <<>>
One of the most outright hummable songs is The Blood Club, which was intended to be released as a single. Again Scary throws in just about every pop musical ingredient from the era he can get his hands on, or rather that he can re-create, and makes a track that is a fun retro hybrid. <<>>
While the sound of this CD often hints at the theatrical, lyrically, the recording does tend to be a bit opaque. But Mrs. Gracy's Revenge does have a bit of a plot to follow, along with the musical backing to go with it. <<>>
The closest thing to a title track on the CD is Shedding Tears All Over the Place. It's a kind of quirky love song, perhaps. Scary throws in a little Dylan shtick vocally. <<>>
Brooklyn-based Bryan Scary's new debut CD The Shredding Tears, is a very impressive album from a 23-year old, essentially working by himself, performing everything but the drums and one guitar part on one song. The scale and level of detail on this project rivals any of the sophisticated rock and pop albums of the past. But it's not just ambitious, it's also fun. These are pop songs in the best sense of the word, catchy melodies, lots of vocal harmonies and many clever sonic touches. Lyrically, sometimes one is left scratching one's head, but that's cool, too, with a good deal of whimsey in the words as well. While this is very much a solo CD, Scary has since recruited a band he calls the Shredding Tears to perform this music live. Initial reviews of the live show were very positive, though it remains to seen how this kind of intricate layered, sonically manipulated music can work in performance.
Our grade for sound quality is an "A." Though this is largely a home recording, sonically it's mostly top-notch, and all the elements blend together very well. The CD was mixed in Philadelphia by one Brian McTear, who did an excellent job. While not quite an audiophile recording, it succeeds at what it sets out to do, and thankfully avoids the tendency of retro-style recordings to introduce the sonic imperfections of the past. Also notable, in the Sgt. Pepper's Tradition, all the tracks run into each other with no gaps.
The Beatles can be credited for giving us this sophisticated approach to pop music, throwing in lots of sonic elements, bits of theatrical influence, and downright clever writing. Bryan Scary is very much carrying on their tradition and doing it in spades.
(c) Copyright 2006 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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