Citizen Bravo – Build a Thing of Beauty
Matt Brennan's debut album as Citizen Bravo is a geek pop thesis on the changing technologies that act as conduits for the music we love. But Brennan doesn't sacrifice emotion for scientific accuracy
Scottish-Canadian Matt Brennan knows a lot about music. He researches and teaches it, writes about it, and makes it. On Build a Thing of Beauty, his debut album as Citizen Bravo, Brennan’s so-called “geek pop” is taken to meta-levels by creating music about the history of creating music – crucially, the creation of physical music in all its forms, from dusty phonograph discs, to thumb-sized hard-drives filled with hours of the stuff. These ideas will all come together in the work’s physical format: an interactive musical sculpture called SCI★FI★HI★FI, that will eventually house the music of Build a Thing of Beauty and will be capable of playing music in any of its formats, as well as an accompanying documentary film, The Cost of Music.
While the gimmicky nature of all this supporting material threatens to distract from the music, it's important to note Brennan’s unstoppable willingness to do something extraordinary and unprecedented with his acquired knowledge. The songs themselves run the gauntlet between the cerebral and the emotive; what will enrich you from this album is based on weighing up the unquestionable cleverness Brennan infuses all these recordings with against their ability to be effectively affecting songs.
Brennan knows indie pop music inside out and, despite all the seeming pretentions, it's ultimately that mid-tempo, present day-Death Cab rock that is employed here, with a few exceptions. He knows when to bring you up and bring you down, and it's pulled off with near scientific accuracy. On the title track, this works strongest, delivering a rousing chorus. Throughout, snippets of field and archival recordings bleed in and out. All feel at home, most prominently on The Mystery of History, which sees Brennan pull off better than what Public Service Broadcasting has tried to over a string of bloated albums, with none of the cod preachiness, just complete enthusiasm for his subject matter.
The whole project is worth it for the last two tracks alone though. Stuck Inside of Mobile Phone (spot the Dylan reference) is genuinely devastating – that feeling of attachment to a piece of technology, even in the moments of life where you most want to cast it away, is something that anyone experiencing a break-up will attest to.
And finally, Have a Nice Time, perhaps the album’s simplest song, finds Brennan plainly speaking over a gradually building musical accompaniment, telling the story of attending a talk by the legendary Ian MacKaye in Newfoundland. It starts almost like the set up for a ghost story, and quickly turns into a tale far scarier, and funnier, depending on how much importance you place on Fugazi and hardcore music, that shouldn’t be spoiled. Brennan’s delivery totally sells it, ending the song on a genuinely surprising clip and a heart-warming poignancy that the record deserves to have built up to.
Listen to: Build a Thing of Beauty, Stuck Inside of Mobile Phone, Have a Nice Time