Rich Brown’s EPs Pandemo and The Misinformation Age get their first listens with my customary no attention paid to any of the review package notes.
Brown genres as Folk, something that as a rule is only enjoyed by me when live in a pub and drunk enough to think I know the lyrics.
It’s not a style I know much about and what I’m hearing puts me in mind of a low-key Greenday or a smooth Pogues.
Concentrating on the vibe alone, I get a vision of a pub full of polished mahogany in which a group of friends sit in an assortment of comfortable, deep chairs, laughing and drinking golden brown liquids from crystal cut glasses that twist light from an out of view fire into a mesmerising kaleidoscope of kinship hearty and warm.
Slower tracks provide more poignant moments for the friends to reflect on those, for whatever reason, not there.
But mostly they smile, lean into each other, tactile happy people
Track ‘Let me in’ has me consider that if TV show Friends had been set in Sheffield—the Salt of the Earth city Rich Brown is from—and was accordingly realistic and gritty for it, as opposed to a load of fluff like the actual show, it would be the song used on the opening credits.
Paying attention to the lyrics is where the real journey begins.
With them comes a puff of smoke that clears to reveal the group of friends reduced to just two. Lovers in the throes of breaking up; the upbeat-ness no longer so nice, but instead taunting born of an impossible situation. Separating while still being together, still having to share the same flat and bills with a bitter resentment—all the merry glass raising and glassy eyed salutes ending in insults—for a mess of a relationship as much tied up in money as lust; and to top it all off there’s still a small part madly in love.
The duality captivates, though it’s impossible to fall fully into the narrative I’m creating when lyrics to one song feature the Kraken.
Earth, the Lover:
There’s no point where I think ‘Rich and guitar need something else’ but it’s equally true that when the backing vocals kick in they add sweet honey to the fig. The harmonising elevates, creates a light showing Earth as the lover taunted and humanity the entity casting the abuse.
And that small part still head-over-heels in love: those few amongst us actually giving one about the planet and its future; desperately clinging to the hope the breakdown can be reversed, while the greater part just wants to fuck it anyway they can.
Protest songs, not simply bittersweet but full on ironic cheering and raising a glass of couldn’t-give-a-fuck as the planet goes down in Climate Change’s grips, capturing perfectly the arrogant contempt shown by most for the impending disaster about to engulf us.
Those getting it will sing along heartily, albeit with a slight lump in the throat and tear in the eye; while those who don’t will equally sing along, thinking it an up-yours to the whole concept of Climate Change in the same way Twitter was recently full of talk about people not realising it was The System and corrupt governments putting the Rage in Against the Machine.
Everything on these EPs is done DIY in a room in Rich Brown’s house. It’s mind blowing enough without the revelation one of the method’s he uses goes completely against the fundamentals of music production as I was not only taught them, but previously have seen play out to the lesson’s full validation.
Yes, things would sound different if recorded in a studio. But ‘better’ would only be a matter of opinion. Spare bedroom recording or not, both EPs are beautifully put together. Nothing could elevate what Brown is managing to achieve all on his own.
Except, that is, the above mentioned honey-on-fig backing vocals.
Finally reading the release notes, I learn that of course there’s a lot more to the lyrics than what I’ve taken from them. Track ‘Walking the straw dog’ is, to quote Rich, ‘about my very late realisation that I am on the spectrum’.
‘The Kraken’ Brown describes as ‘a simple nautical metaphor for the ugly potential future of profit driven click bait news’.
Though there’s no mention of the backing vocalists. It’s usual for bits of info to be forgotten here and there in review packages; that said, it is still with assumption that I drop Rich a line asking about this aspect, saying that I understand there could be numerous reasons the singers don’t want a mention, but wanted to be sure as the review can’t avoid mentioning the phenomenal harmonies going on.
Not assuming is meant to be a key tenet of my philosophy, so do I feel like a total idiot when Rich replies to confirm (it did say in the notes he’d done everything) it is all him, going on to explain the building of a ‘duvet fort’ into which he would climb to record the various takes.
Not only do I now owe Rich a massive apology (sorry, mate! 😬) for doing something I supposedly never do, my level of awe for what I’m hearing is raised exponentially; for while there are a couple of tracks where I did think Rich’s own vocals had been layered, there are far more where I remain utterly convinced that not only is there more than one voice, but one of them is female such is Brown’s incredible vocal ability.
The review notes tell me Rich wrote some songs when sitting with his daughter while she watched cartoons. Unorthodox, unusual, unconventional: call it what you want, these EPs lack nothing for being DIY; on the contrary: they have an abundance of Down to Earth for it.
My sincere thanks to Rich for the opportunity to review these phenomenal EPs!
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan
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