AGAIN AND AGAIN
We’re deep in the land of power pop. This time with Brilliant Colors. We’re staying solidly with the female lead-singer sound with this band and their new record, no boy-girl sweetness here. And more classically, the driving force with this band’s sound, from San Francisco, is the blazing guitar riffs played by Jess Scott. The band, started in 2007, is on the road right now promoting their most recent release, “Again and Again” (Slumberland Records, 2011). The press around this band likes to label them post-punk, or hardcore. I hear some of that, especially live, but to my ear, Brilliant Colors still live somewhere in the power-pop universe. Aside from worrying about the best name for what they do, I can admire this new record of energy and clever songwriting.
And it’s Jess Scott who you can’t take your eyes off of (or your ears off of, if you’re spinning the record at home). She sets the pace when playing live, and the pace is blistering. Power pop is a mighty river of music, a sprawling, flexing, mutating thing, with wild waves of cranky DIY primitiveness recorded on lo-fi bedroom gear, gathering in artists across a wide spectrum of styles. Frisky, moody songwriting with lyrics that don’t delve too deep. Their live stage presence is brisk, which is a hallmark of the style, I suppose. Or maybe it’s all their own.
“Again and Again” is one group of songs on record and quite another played live. The record seems quieter, with greater definition of the instruments and song structure. Live, I found Brilliant Colors more punk than anything. Raspy and loud and fast. Part of that comes from a venue like the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, where I saw Brilliant Colors play recently. It’s part of the experience. The small, dark bar with compact stage, basic lighting, and fans pressed in close to the stage. I was a bit disappointed to not get to enjoy Scott’s voice live, because it was lost in the storm of sound. She doesn’t pause to talk to the audience, either. Well, almost never. But the few times she did speak, she kept tinkering with her guitar, which all but drowned out all meaning.
“Again and Again” is one of those records that wakes up an old conversation in my head: the importance of single tracks on an LP versus the album as a collection of songs that reflect and amplify one another, built around something bigger. The LP as an exploration of a range of songs and ideas that all slipstream into a uniform entity. “Again and Again” is an adrenaline rush from start to finish, but so much alike track to track that I find I tune out the individual songs.
I know, “samey” is my problem, not the band’s. And yet it makes it harder to isolate (in memory) the standout tracks from this record, songs like “Back to the Tricks” or “Hitting Traffic.” So, to my way of thinking, this is a record you could easily sample (and be forgiven for it), buy a few singles and have your fix of “Again and Again.” I’m not excited about promoting that idea because I’m old school about LPs and the artifact of music. I enjoy playing LPs through as a whole, until I’ve absorbed what’s going on, and only then pulling out a couple of tracks that sparkle and putting them into my monthly playlist. Having listened to “Again and Again” many times now, I’m conflicted about this as an LP or simply 10 undifferentiated songs delivered as a group.
Still, this is a band worth exploring. Live, they’re formidable: loud, fast, and punk. In a venue with more balanced sound, I suspect they would achieve a higher level of clarity and audience connection. Still, it was worth the price of the ticket to see Scott drive her music home. It’s a sight to behold. And Scott is the band. Like us in the audience, her bandmates all watch her and take their cue off what she’s launching into. It must be a tough job keeping up. It was a tough job just watching.