There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
“There’s dread inside of the air now / We can’t stop breathing it in,” Benjamin Schurr croons in the opening lines of “Dread,” the first track on Take Away From Me The Noise Of Your Songs, the fifth full-length album from D.C. quartet Br’er. It’s a statement so absurdly poignant, so outrageously “of the times,” that it’s honestly difficult to believe the fact that this album was recorded in 2017. So maybe we should take a step back and look at how we got here.
In a lot of ways, Take Away From Me The Noise Of Your Songs is an attempt to do two things: return Br’er to their roots and capture the essence of the band in 2017. Recorded on reel-to-reel 8-track and with a focus on longer, more experimental compositions and orchestral arrangements, the songs are much more reminiscent of Br’er before Schurr brought the project to D.C.—particularly 2011’s City of Ice—than they are of anything on either 2015’s Masking or its 2017 follow-up, Brunch is for A$$holes. Similarly, there’s an embrace of the project’s history as a collective, with members of other BLIGHT Records projects ranging from Luna Honey to Tadzio making appearances. (It is worth pointing out, though, that this is pretty much par for the course for most BLIGHT releases—everyone plays on everything.)
Unfortunately, the songs themselves are a mixed bag. “Dread” is an absolutely stellar opener, slowly layering synths and guitars before exploding into the kind of hellish dance music that Br’er do better than almost anybody. The production really shines on “Stalemate,” with Erik Sleight’s (Tölva, SWOLL) sliding bass groove punching through the mix and anchoring a track that alternates between layers of pretty synth sounds and abrasive guitars.
The quality begins to lag slightly with the next three tracks. “Fugue State” is a ballad by way of Luna Honey’s debut, Peace Will Grind You Down, a record that came out a year after this song was recorded. It’s pretty and has a sweet distorted bridge that hits just after the four-minute mark, but otherwise doesn’t stand out one way or the other. The next two songs rest more on their intellectual merits than on the songs themselves. “Diaspora” was recorded on the same day of the racist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer by white supremacists. “We’re watching this happen again / We’re letting this happen again,” Schurr sings, somewhere between desperate plea and warning. In case we didn’t get it, “Interlude” features a recording of Schurr’s late friend Sean Finan discussing experiences of anti-Semitism with Schurr’s father.
The following three songs, however, don’t stand up to the rest of the album. “Forever Child,” “Miracles Of,” and “My Son” all feature interesting ideas, especially the lyrical play on “Miracles Of,” but they lack any sense of urgency or direction. Even on Brunch, which Schurr has repeatedly referred to as Br’er’s “joke album,” there was a sense that the songs neededto come out, that they neededto be sung. These three tracks feel much more like intellectual exercises than the sorts of visceral experiences fans have come to expect from the band. This is most apparent on “Forever Child,” which trudges through its nine-minute run time, only becoming truly compelling in its final minute with the addition of Maura Pond’s (Luna Honey) vocal backing.
Fortunately, the album closes out with the excellent “Black Angels.” In keeping with the theme of the album, Br’er have been sitting on this one for a while (I first heard them perform it in 2014), waiting for the right time to release it. It features perhaps the most dynamic composition on the album, as well as Schurr’s most passionate vocal performance. If there’s one track that really showcases what Br’er are, this track, with its back-and-forth between sinister and saccharine synths, is it.
Ultimately, Take Away From Me The Noise Of Your Songs feels like what it is: a collection of songs pieced together over the years and then sat on for a few more. The production is great, it’s bookended by two of the best tracks in Br’er’s rather considerable catalog, and there are a lot of really interesting ideas present, but it lacks the sense of urgency that’s defined so much of the group’s work. And while it’s exciting to see the group embracing a return to its roots, it’s more exciting to think about where they’ll go next than where they are now.