Category: Electronica / Rock / Experimental
Album: Spines of the Heart
Blurb: Moody, dreamy, and haunting, this double album by Berklee-trained Bryan Deister has sparks of brilliance, a few dismal points, and a ton of material in between.
Spines of the Heart is the latest offering from Redondo Beach, California’s Bryan Deister. The classically trained multi-instrumentalist was schooled at the illustrious Berklee College of Music, and takes on all musical duties on this sprawling, 22 track double album.
Over a catchy minimalist swing beat, the opening “All That I Have” unfolds with swells of distortion crashing like waves on a beach. Deister’s falsetto voice is dreamy but measured. A rounded synth bounces along with a sea shanty like melody. As the chorus rolls in, the waves come to a head and the bass sweeps in like the undertow. After it’s made its shifts, the chorus subsides and the tide rolls back. The gradient is a welcome subtlety.
Deeper album cuts like “In Her Eyes” and “Have You” have a hazy sway to them, hovering around a central chord like a buoy stuck bobbing in the same patch of ocean. As you can tell, there’s a definite marine feel to the album, no doubt inspired by his coastal home. The songs start to suffer when Deister comes down from the lofty falsetto to his modal range. A song like “Silent Screams” is actually quite a brilliant, quirky, experimental track; the distorted keyboard solo over the stuttered rhythm is a highlight of the album, but the vocals are not up to snuff and would hold many people back from appreciating the track.
Lead single “Into the Sky” comes along eight songs in and takes the rhythm out of the quicksand with a jaunty number. The masterful descending vocal harmonies bring to mind “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The kick drum bounces like a rubber ball with the bass floating between every bound. This piece is a classic, a triumph of songwriting. The strength of “Into the Sky” makes the failure of the following track that much more noticeable. “Gone” is written with the feel of Elliott Smith near the end, possessing all of Smith’s melancholy without the eloquence or poetic aptitude. The best course of action is to skip this one.
The other single, “Today” brings the aquatic theme right in to the lyrics. An obtuse chorus about having “caught a lot of fishes today” along with a minor piano lick and symphonic swells make this song a Radiohead doppelganger. The remainder of the album has highs and lows with some redundancy. “What You Want” has an intense conclusion, as does “Apart of Me” – two high points of the second half.
In the end, Spines of the Heart is a great single album floating around inside a double album. That can often be a lazy answer by music journalists who don’t have the time or patience to properly assess a double LP, but this time, it is definitely the case. This is where self-producing becomes an issue; Deister doesn’t need anyone to tell him what parts to play. The songs are all clearly fleshed out and carried out to their best possible end. However, not all songs turn out to be gems. A good producer can see the songs beyond the artist’s attachment and make the call to axe the ones that fall flat. A film director may help with the editing process, but it is extremely rare to have directors take it solely upon themselves to make the cuts. Spines of the Heart has some fantastic tracks; if it had been streamlined in to one disc, it would be much more powerful. Reimagined as an 80-minute playlist, the album is quite impressive.