When Brave Baby appeared on the Charleston scene with their 40 Bells CD, they were revolutionary; because not a single member played a mandolin or banjo on stage. Wow. The entire community wondered how in the world such an outfit could call themselves a band.
The time was 2013 and Charleston was in love with Shovels and Rope (rightly so) and their kind. The scene was loaded with what my friend called “Prairie Rock,” as in Little House On The Prairie. Upright basses, banjos, fiddles, washboards, and all the influences of bluegrass bands had made Charleston home. So when Brave Baby holed away in a storage garage and crafted their sound, insulated from the Appalachian musical influences, what emerged was fresh and new. Instead of a constant strum and crack heard in other local bands, Brave Baby managed to intelligently weave their instrumentation into a rich tapestry of sounds, embellished by creative studio trickery.
Comparisons to Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Shins, Broken Bells and other indie acts came to mind. It was apparent Brave Baby were mining a sound that may have been common in NYC and Chicago, but less so in Charleston. Their freshness, along with their quality songwriting, helped them build a well deserved local following.
Recording a follow up is always tough, and Indie bands tend to fall in love with their sounds and their studios, while forgetting to focus on the songs. Brave Baby avoided that trap and on Electric Friends, being released August 14th, they have elevated their sound and improved their songwriting. Lead vocalist Keon Masters has a distinctive voice (necessary in any band trying to break through) that is always softly pleading, awash in effects. He sounds like a quieter version of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie). The interplay of guitars and keyboards is smartly orchestrated, while drummer/producer Wolfgang Zimmerman brilliantly uses the studio as his playground. Rounding out the lineup, Christian Chidester, Jordan Hicks and Steven Walker all add their own musical nuances which help to individually solidify the instrumental approach.
The CD strikes a wonderful balance between being the kind of material you could listen to in the background, on a car ride with friends, or something that begs you to come closer and listen deeper. Electric Friends opens with “Daisy Child,” a track that starts with trippy effects and keys that give way to a throwback horn section followed by a sing along chorus. Next up is “Find You Out,” and this is as unapologetically pure a pop song as you might hear from any Indie band. Full of melodic hooks, sweeping strings, memorable lines such as, “How am I gonna make it if I have no cash,” and vulnerability “I still feel like I’ve never been touched.” It’s three minutes of simple, well written and arranged audio joy.
Much of the rest of the CD continues with this high level of songwriting and production. Hints of syncopated reggae guitars and a short echo of surf guitar/drums remind me that the band resides near the ocean.
There are only a couple of songs I could have done without – and I’d have suggested the band sell these as “extras” to their fans at a later date. When I say a couple were not up to the standards of the rest of the CD, that’s not a dis, but a compliment to the rest of the CD.
I’d give this release a solid B+, which to me is a top level regional CD that falls just short of making an immediate impact on a national stage. Yet, I’ll listen to this one long after the latest from Broken Bells or Death Cab for Cutie have left my CD player. With constant touring, I could see these guys building a much bigger following. If they continue to grow as they have so far, many greater opportunities lay ahead of them.