J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Now Departing:
Jim Bryson - Where the Bungalows Roam


Jim Bryson
Where the Bungalows Roam
(Kelp ; 2007)


It's always fun to hear artists that are working within a group. I'm not referring to individuals in a band, necessarily, but rather a group of people who not only create their own music, but they also work with one another and obviously, openly influence each other's sound. Jim Bryson fits into a group of Canadian songwriters that are probably larger than I'm giving them credit for being, but who are largely known for Kathleen Edwards and Andrew and Peter Cash, the Cash Brothers. Bryson released two solo records earlier in the 00s, but lately has been working as a session musician for Edwards, including giving her his excellent "Somewhere Else" for her Back to Me album. Working with those musicians, you might guess Bryson has the alt-country/pop tags down cold, and he does. But despite treading in similar waters (especially to the Cash Brothers), Bryson manages to carve out a niche of his own, worthy of attention. Released in March of 2007, the album escaped my attention up until a recent discussion of Kathleen Edwards on a blog.

Where the Bungalows Roam is a disarmingly light record. The music is very subdued in the sense that no single instrument (including, and especially, Bryson's voice) ever becomes what anyone would call "loud." The minimal nature of some of the songs is similar to the way Spoon has managed to strip down rock and roll over the course of their albums, creating a limited, but affective sound. It's a warm and supportive feel (keyboards, pedal steel and reverb are used often) that serves to focus the bulk of the record on Bryson's vocals, and Bryson's vocals are worth focusing on. Sounding like a somewhat deeper-voiced kin to Jeff Tweedy, Bryson's lyrics are in turns clever, wistful, self-deprecating and melancholic.

The comparisons to Tweedy don't stop there. Where Bryson's lyrics more resemble his Canuck contemporaries, the music sounds like a mixture of the spare, easy flow of Wilco's latest work and of their alt-country heyday. There is a near constant flow that isn't interrupted by any jags in one sonic direction or another - Where the Bungalows Roam is of a piece; this is both its biggest asset and detriment.

The waltzing "Flowers" opens the record, setting the tone for the rest of the album - melancholy and medicine. It leaves with an unresolved feeling, something that a lot of the songs tend to do. It's not that the songs need to go on any further - quite the contrary, they are almost, to the last, the perfect length and exploration of the ideas therein. But like another favorite Canadian songwriter (Hayden), Bryson seems quite content to create sketches in his songs that are left unfinished. This is both frustrating and inviting - it leaves the listener able to apply their own thoughts, but much like an open-ended artistic creation, it can leave the listener frustrated that more wasn't done.

When the sketches turn into something larger than the sum of their parts, as in the stunning "Pissing on Everything," they are magical. "Clear the Crowds" follows with a floating, ethereal beauty and "My Marie of the Sea" picks this similar feel back up later in the album. Truly, there aren't many songs that really diverge from this feel. A few more up-tempo numbers ("The Options," "All the Fallen Leaves") rely on a more driving, chugging guitar rhythm that, again, doesn't ever explode or take off in the way that a listener might expect.

It is playing against these expectations that allows Bryson's record to ingratiate itself. My first listen to this record didn't blow me away, but as I went through the following day, I found myself drawn back into listening to the record, new bits and pieces declaring themselves to me as I went along. While records like this will never be blowing out the pop charts, they are the ones that will linger in our collections a lot longer than flashy counterparts. It's the true definition of a sleeper record, revealing and presenting itself long after the initial listens.

Rating: E(xcellent) / I(nteresting)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Jim Bryson - "Pissing On Everything"

Jim Bryson - "Fire Watch"

Jim Bryson - "My Marie of the Sea"

Stream the entire album at the official website.

Download Where the Bungalows Roam from EMusic.

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