Brendan Brisk has big ambitions on “Relaxylvania.” On his sonically adventurous new album, he attempts to bring top-notch rock musicianship to pop songs — or maybe he’s trying to bring pop sensibility to jazz- and blues-flavored rock.
Either way, Brisk, a fiery guitarist who sings lead vocals, and his bandmates mostly succeed. The arrangements are clean despite bubbling over with horns, percussion and other studio treats. And when those performances link up with a memorable hook, the results are noteworthy.
On opening track “Fanfare,” Brisk announces his arrival, singing, “She had demons on her breath when she kissed me” over a foundation of Duran Duran-esque pop, spooky synths, blasts of saxophone and Latin percussion while he plays blues-rock licks to drive the melody. It’s the type of song that makes you want to hear the next one.
“Control” is deep-pocketed funk, with the lyrics to match: “Take off your shoes, I’m going to take control over you,” Brisk sings, evoking Prince. “Bring Me Down” dials the heat down to a simmer with a warm sax intro and some acoustic guitar. The track is well placed after the first two burners that open the album.
“Renounce All Evil” is a pleasant instrumental interlude, complete with acid jazzy organ. “Simulator” finds Brisk venturing further afield, intoning in a confessional manner not too different from Billie Eilish or Halsey.
Some monotony sets in during the latter third of the album, where memorable hooks, besides on “What Do I Have,” where Brisk’s measured vocals sound like Ray LaMontagne’s, become harder to come by.
However, on the whole, “Relaxylvania” is an album that shows one doesn’t have to sacrifice great playing to make good love songs — and the musicality never takes away from the emotions here. As the music industry shifts away from the album format, it’s refreshing to hear a younger artist dedicated to delivering a complete album, and this release hints at a bright future.
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