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Brown Recluse - Evening Tapestry

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Artist: Brown Recluse

Album: Evening Tapestry

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Feb. 16, 2011

With Belle and Sebastian on the decline (let’s level, guys) and Of Montreal off on a bender, I can understand how a band like Brown Recluse might see an opportunity in the void where their predecessors’ success used to exist. Especially now that Slumberland is back in action. Most of the attention on 1990s indie-pop has been heaped on the more elemental and messy birth of the movement. So why not cast an eye toward the more cosmopolitan, baroque sensibilities that came along just a little while after?

Fair enough. But the problem with Evening Tapestry isn’t in the inspiration, but the strip-mining of albums and sounds that aren’t even cold in the ground yet. The result is a pastiche of deja vu moments that distract from a significant level of musicianship that this growing Philadelphia sextet possesses. It’s one thing to be reminded of why you first listened to Belle and Sebastian and any band with a Glaswegian accent in the first place. It’s another to be sent back to all those records from 1996 in search of plagiarism.

Or 2003. The real trouble starts with the similarities to Dear Catastrophe Waitress, not surprisingly the album on which Belle and Sebastian spiffed up its production. Latest single "Impressions of a City Morning" is a catchy piece of sunshine that is more ambitious than cute. But at it’s core, it’s essentially a beefed up version of the still-hilarious albeit totally dated "Piazza, New York Catcher." Sure, the sitar-esque Rickenbacker lines at the end go a long way in making this one Brown Recluse’s own, but I still couldn’t stop myself from stopping it to dig out the historical antecedent. In another instance on “Summer Showers,” the syncopated descending lilt replaces the famous catastrophe waitress at one moment before cribbing a similar melodic line from Of Montreal’s “Pancakes for One.” Again, invoked reminiscences of past pop hits are something I consider major benefits of the genre, but it shouldn’t be this distracting.

I know this is coming off a little rough, but it’s only because Brown Recluse is good enough to find a unique voice, or at least expand on the template. One of the album’s high points, on “Summer Showers,” actually comes during the ethereal outro with the revelation that the distance between the obvious referents and more distant relatives, like The Dismemberment Plan, is much less than I would have thought. I went back to visit “A Life of Possibilities,” not so much to catch Brown Recluse in the act, but to reconsider that song from a different angle. Brown Recluse shows there is value in this kind of lift and juxtaposition.

The band also shows that it knows how to use its full line-up and all the multi-instrumental strengths that come with it, which is when Evening Tapestry really comes into its own. The closing third is clearly all Brown Recluse, hinging largely on unexpected voices taking center stage. “Paisley Tears” threads its way into enticingly dark places on the back of a spidery harpsichord before giving way to an extraterrestrial landscape of distortion at the end. Inversely, “Golden Sun” rides a skipping stone bass line into a chorus of trumpets that have no business making their debut in the dead of winter. With “Monday Moon,” however, Brown Recluse figures out how to put the many moving parts at its disposal into one functioning pop machine. Does it sound like songs of indie bands past? Sure, but it’s also one of the few instants where the band stands on its own and abandons the canonical crutch.

The real work going forward for Brown Recluse will be channeling its considerable talents to not just create what sounds like a lost indie-pop document of the 1990s, but instead a more contemporary and original point of view. Anachronism and imitation, while funny and impressive in terms of proficiency, can only work for so long, if they work at all. If the group can find a way to move out from underneath the shadow of its influences, I will spend a lot more time obsessing over its songs, as opposed to those that came before.

By Evan Hanlon

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