Release Date: May 28, 2013
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
There's a lovely, skittering energy to the second album from Brazos, a restlessness that reflects the band's fitful existence. Four years ago, they were based in Austin, Texas, and released a debut album, Phosphorescent Blues, that took inspiration from poet Adrienne Rich; shortly after its release, frontman Martin Crane moved to Brooklyn, shedding the rest of the band in the process. His current collaborators, bassist Spencer Zahn and particularly drummer Ian Chang, bring a thrilling nimbleness to proceedings: you can hear jazz swing, tropicalia breeze and krautrock's hypnotic propulsion in their dancing rhythms.
There’s a lot to be said for solitude. Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle once told me about his writing process and being on tour and said the key was to spend as much time as he could on his own and then the songs would come. Martin Crane, the man behind New York-via-Austin’s Brazos seems to have learned something similar in coming to write his band’s second album Saltwater, a follow-up to 2009?s promising debut Phosphorescent Blues; the themes of the record – isolation, solitude, the sea – formed after a move to NYC found Crane working on a 19th century sail boat and reading Moby Dick.
Martin McNulty Crane V is a surprisingly tough performer to pin down. For a guy descended from four gentlemen who share his name, Crane’s distinctive voice makes him remarkably singular. He’s equal parts eccentric songwriter of noise-experiment pop and part folk-pop band leader. Those two sides clash or meld – depending on the song – on his second record as Brazos, titled Saltwater and the results are always tuneful, bright and catchy and, at their best, brilliant pop songcraft.
When Martin Crane returned from touring his debut full-length as Brazos, 2009's Phosphorescent Blues, he came down with a serious case of post-vacation doldrums. After working at a phone bank and spending a little too much time in Austin dive bars, Crane decided to lift himself out of his rut by moving to New York. There, he signed to independent label Dead Oceans and enlisted some Brooklyn-based musicians to record his second record, Saltwater.
Following up on 2009's Phosphorescent Blues, Brazos' Martin Crane continued to evolve, expanding on Brazos' raw beginnings with keyboards and thick production. New additions drummer Ian Chang and bassist Spencer Zahn are a tight, lively rhythm section and add their share of Afro-pop syncopation or tastefully choppy beats to keep things interesting, but Saltwater is very much a showcase for Crane. His ability to write a simple acoustic-based song and turn it immense through layered multi-instrumentation is impressive.
Much like soundalikes Local Natives, Brooklyn via Austin trio Brazos make Afropop-inspired indie folk that is catchy and bouncy but a time-specific amalgam of better acts like Vampire Weekend or Grizzly Bear. That said, there’s a lot on Brazos’ latest album, Saltwater, that is admirable, not so much for its attempted musical sophistication but instead for its pop sensibilities. Initially, two of the album’s more buzzworthy tracks fall victim to “spot the influence” even though they’re good pop tracks.
Brazos is the Spanish word for “arms,” and although the word came to Martin McNulty Crane in a potentially disturbing dream (“This woman was just yelling it in my face”), it’s not a stretch to describe the music of Brazos as a warm hug. After opening for bands like The National and Vampire Weekend on the heels of his 2009 debut, Phosphorescent Blues, Crane exchanged Austin for Brooklyn as his home base and reformed the band. On second album Saltwater, Brazos produces more of his signature style of ambient pop music.
Brazos Saltwater (Dead Oceans) Stagnant after one too many days at a local phone bank, Martin Crane packed everything he owned into his 1990 Honda Civic station wagon and left Austin in 2011 without fanfare. Spending the next two years in a cycle of self-discovery, he pieced together his second full-length album and a new Brazos lineup in Brooklyn with bassist Spencer Zahn and drummer Ian Chang. Saltwater captures that great awakening, emboldened and expansive, torn between childlike wonder and quarter-life introspection.