A funny thing happens about halfway through Brett’s self-titled debut: The D.C. synth-pop outfit’s first full-length offering goes from a solid ode to ’80s electro-pop to a timeless, catchy album pegged to no decade in particular. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when Brett makes the shift—a couple of lush hooks here, a few spirited guitar lines there, none of which require a nod to the past to justify their glitzy production. But while the melodies are tight and the guitars euphoric, what it really boils down to is that these guys know how to focus on the details.
After the release of 2011’s Tigers, the members of D.C.-based pop-rock group the Dance Party announced a name change to Brett, aiming for a clean slate to showcase their new material. Brett (Mick Coogan, Kevin Bayly, David Kuehl, Jon Jester, and recent addition Mike Toohey) has been described as “experimental pop,” but it’s really not all that experimental. In fact, one of the band’s strengths is its accessibility: Where similar acts would toss in an unnecessary interlude of spacey synths or a self-indulgent stretch of vocals, Brett keeps things simple by building on smaller, standout moments and trimming away the extras.
As the Dance Party, the members of Brett delivered songs with big, soaring hooks and over-the-top solos. The formula earned the group some national attention and a deal with Atlantic Records. But as Brett, the outfit offers organic, dreamy grooves that still provide listeners with a beat, but one that’s a bit more subdued. It’s hard not to lose yourself in the album’s cool fluidity—simple electronic beats that blend into a shimmery chorus with fuzzy keyboards blanketing falsetto croons. Delicate female vocals (Brittany Sims on “Glass Hearts” and Kim P. of Yumi Zouma on “Lovers”) add a layer of complexity in the album’s blissed-out harmonies.
The appeal of Brett hinges largely on its thematic qualities. Tracks like “Lovers” could easily occupy the background of a posh summer pool party packed with beautiful people. And while most tracks master that formula (harmonies! synths! love!), a few seem confused in their construction. “Thrash” starts out on the right track, continuing the album’s weightless electronic pulses, but pauses for an almost spoken-word interlude that awkwardly interrupts the pace. But beyond a handful of similar missteps, it’s pretty damn hard not to bob your head to a majority of the album. “Confidence”—first released on the band’s debut EP, Confidence x Kate Moss, in October 2012—is undeniably catchy, thanks in no small part to the band members’ willingness to trust their instincts in dangerous territory. Sure, layered synths can skew cheesy, but who cares if it sounds good? Brett knows this and exploits it.
Toward the end of the album, on “Golden,” the band builds into a power-pop chorus: “I just wanna dance with you tonight…/It doesn’t matter where we’re going as long as you’re there/Hey, do you wanna get high?” The euphoric moment feels half-spontaneous and half-orchestrated; it also perfectly captures the essence of Brett. The band boasts enough creative drive to try something new, but enough experience to stay close to what they know best: dance-ready pleasure-center pop.