The end of the year release list is commonly a bit of a desert when it comes to noteworthy original entries. The usual year end list is comprised mostly of re release deluxe boxed sets and compilations with a few Christmas goodies tossed in for good measure. Pleasantly Rob Bravery’s November 27th release Esque is an exception to the turgid of the November/December new release market. The album is an amalgam of alt folk, trippy electronics and artisanal crafted lyrics.
Bravery a Bristol native singer/songwriter has endured some unfortunate circumstances, an acrimonious divorce of his parents at 14 led to his spiraling into despair and bad life decisions. He quit school at 15 and fell into alcoholism, drug abuse and homelessness. He fought his way back to sobriety through his love of music. The misfortunes he encountered; childhood loneliness, homelessness and addiction, have informed the music he creates. However he does not dwell on his traumas, they do not inhabit the forefront of his lyrics but give validity to the melancholy facets of his work. Where many artists would wallow in self absorbed pity and angst, Bravery goes another way refreshingly giving those elements nuanced treatment on the release. Esque is a sensitive genre mixing release full of self discovery and redemption.
In Bravery’s other musical ventures he tended to shroud the meaning in his music, but on Esque he is far more forthright. He describes where he currently finds himself stating,” It’s taken me a while to realize what I should be putting out there. I hid my personality behind chord progressions and weird fugal arrangements, in those earlier releases. I’m a lot clearer these days, but I keep some things cryptic, I’m still hiding out a bit and I like that.” His goal for Esque was to attempt to be completely musical honest to himself and his vision. Bravery’s emerging sound is informed by the storied “Bristol Sound” of his hometown, personified by Massive Attack and Portishead. Bravery’s music also reflects the bittersweet pathos found in the many of the works of Sufjan Stevens. Bravery is an intimate wordsmith who has a pure sweet vocal quality that allows him to sing the saddest lyrics yet making them sound sweetly redolent.
Esque is both clever and charming in equal measure. Bravery infuses his lyrics with catchy hooks that draw attention and admiration. Knock Out Ginger is the debut single and has gained a lot of support on 6 Music and Radio 2. The song is a great opener with Bravery’s apt wordsmithery being supported by spirally wonky computer goodness and gritty percussion; it is helped along by his delightfully earnest vocals. The addictively listenable Cleaning Up is noteworthy with its soulful piano. The song questions who is fooling who in a romantic relationship, and what is behind the façade we all display. As the lyric queries, “Which one of us is truly cleaning up?”
You Don’t Know When to Stop is not a trope on addictions but an up tempo tune filled with a swingy ragtime piano that will make you consider jigging around the room. The song addresses the peaks and valleys life presents; “The man in the mirror don’t know it is only peaks and troughs.” Again and again in the lyrics Bravery gets to the heart of the matter in a totally engaging way.
The song title Me, Myself and the Scurvy Knave sounds like it could have come off of a Decemberists release; it is an arresting song that draws you into the drama of the lyric and its accompaniment. The track unreels like a short story taking the listener through the tale of a sea journey which parallels life and struggles through hardships, heartbreak and redemptive solace. It is a classically constructed singer/songwriter song with insightful technological flourishes. The song is a highlight on an album rife with them. Fruition has a sparkling acoustic guitar and fully utilizes alternative folk stylings. The question asked by the track is do you fight the inevitable or give in and spare yourself the aggravation; “I’m waiting for the other shoe.” The lyrics are beautifully crafted and grab hold making the song highly addictive. In trying to find a parallel work to Bravery’s lyrical crafting I am reminded of Neil Finn’s amazing solo works in which the detail of the lyrics matches perfectly to the accompaniment.
Broom Cupboard and The Man of Good Fortune are the two tracks that get the closest to being autobiographical. Synths come to the forefront on Broom Cupboard. Bravery likens the broom cupboard to the place where all the debris of our life accumulates and we can’t bare to clean it out. It is also the place where our most inner most thoughts and expectations reside, “40 something and failing… I can change, I can change, I seriously doubt.” The Man of Good Fortune is my favorite track on Esque It speaks of a person who through no fault of their own can not catch a break. Nothing seems to ever go right as the dark cloud ever resides overhead, “life turned as ugly as sin”. The song examines the capriciousness of fame and fortune. Bravery delivers the song with just the right balance of irony and heartfelt earnestness to guarantee it gets under your skin.
The title song Esque is a piano ballad and the climax of the album. It is a powerful track that is a magnificent marriage of lyrics and accompaniment. The song again examines timeless issues such as there being no guarantees that life will turn out as you thing, “the life you were banking on died a slow painful death.” It also addresses redemption and how life changes in an instant, so don’t kick down the ladders that get you where you are; “The thread you were hanging on won’t be around for long.” It is a sublime selection making it easy to understand why the album is named for this song.
Marvel at the Man starts out with a discordant synth and then expands into a bouncy driving beat. The song tackles how overwhelming everything is in our current times. Bravery asks, “How do we tell in this day and age what to keep and what to let go.” …”how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?”. There is alchemy being performed again on this track as Bravery takes a heavy quandary and balances it so aptly for an engaging outcome.
Remy is a blues infused song that speaks to the emotional struggles of everyday life. It is introspective and confessional with a sort of lyrical synchronicity, where all the unlike elements of the lyric surprisingly fit together to create an evocative and beautiful song. Submission Statement Is a rollicking gospel tinged song where Bravery is questioning whether he should remain faithful to his vision or sell out to the supposed formula for fortune and fame. He attempts to justify his life and the right to earn a second chance at redemption, “things are looking up for the average schmuck.” The accompaniment is uplifting and ends with a scintillating cacophony of sound.
I can enthusiastically recommend this album. I was very impressed with Rob Bravery’s musical skills but even more impressed with his stellar wordsmithing abilities. There is definitely a satisfying heft to his songwriting. Every song reveal something different each time they are given a listen and makes for an album that will be returned to repeatedly. Not to be missed is Bravery’s ability to balance the beauty of his music and vocals with the more introspective melancholy of his lyrics making it all so attractive. Well done!.