Haunting, beautiful, and weird in equal doses, Brightblack's second album for Matador was recorded entirely under solar power. Deeper and heftier than their much loved 2006 self-titled LP, this record recalls musicians as diverse as Lee Perry, Bob Dylan, My Bloody Valentine, Neil Young, and Otis Redding, with sounds ranging from folk to gospel to experimental electronics.
Review by John Bush
If you thought the first two Brightblack Morning Light records were adrift in a sea of languidity, you won't be surprised by the third -- unless, of course, you'd think that after being begged to add some variety to their sound, the duo would pull back from the brink. Proving themselves perfectly immune to criticism, Brightblack Morning Light do nothing but chill out yet farther on Motion to Rejoin. Recorded in the secluded New Mexico desert with many self-enforced limitations -- most notable of which is the restriction of studio power to direct solar radiation (aka daylight) -- Rachael Hughes and Naybob Shineywater have fashioned another record that cobbles together eight tracks from what seems like a maximum of two or three different grooves. The duo and their compatriots nonetheless continue to sound great, even if their music's true aim is nothing more than relaxation or meditation. Hughes' Rhodes piano and Shineywater's Silvertone guitar or Hohner clavinet amble through the album, calling up the ghosts of the American Southwest (and South), even as they veer yet closer to nearer descendants like Talk Talk and Spiritualized. The lyrics, when they occur, offer encomiums to natural living (naturally) with the occasional warning of the modern world's perils (a sampling: "I still live by the river in a little tent," "I see the places where the tee-pee once was risen," "Nobody wants oppression," "Keep the spirit clean and let the high times roll"). Brightblack Morning Light's intentions and actions are indeed admirable -- they're committed advocates of much more than just drug legalization -- but Motion to Rejoin struggles mightily to articulate a focus aside from tranquility.
Brightblack Morning Light:
Motion to Rejoin
It's tempting to consider the title of Brightblack Morning Light's third album, Motion to Rejoin, a plea to return to a society they've left behind. The notoriously itinerant duo called Alabama and California home, but since their eponymous sophomore album for Matador put them on the map in 2006, they've moved off the grid to a New Mexico hut powered by a few solar panels. One listen to the ritually narcotic Motion to Rejoin, however, signals that all manner of shaman/hippie/Bohemian trappings are still very much the order of the day.
Though it's easy to think of Brightblack as texturally homogeneous purveyors of mood music, revisiting Brightblack Morning Light reminds that Naybob Shineywater and Rachael Hughes have a defter sonic touch than they're often given credit for: songs experience movements, buoyed by the odd piano or horn section, and contain actual riffs. On Motion to Rejoin, Brightblack's compositional subtlety manifests itself in overt nods to American musics: shades of gospel, soul, and even funk are all marinated in Brightblack's low, flat tones. Hughes' thumbing Rhodes lines and Shineywater's cattail guitar remain the dominant elements of every song, but Motion to Rejoin is more tremulous than its predecessor, the same way a high-zoom photo might be blurred with a slight shake of the camera.
Make whatever ha-ha-stoner jokes you will, but it takes no small amount of discipline to unravel music as consistently slow as that of Hughes and Shineywater. Brightblack have now released over 140 minutes of music without showing even a cursory interest in acceleration or haste. At this point their style seems less likely to be framed by medicinal sleepiness or amateur craftsmanship and more likely the intriguing notion that the pace of these records represents the speed at which Brightblack's world moves.
Motion to Rejoin's songs therefore aren't "drug" or "hippie" music, and they don't develop so much as accumulate. On "Gathered Years" horns gain prominence over the course of dozens of bars and only after the vocals dissipate, as if snowballing too many elements at once might generate the type of momentum Brightblack avoid so meticulously. "Summer Hoof" treads wordlessly for over five minutes, slowly gathering the album's sunniest and most optimistic tones.
"Oppressions Each" stands as the duo's most coherent statement to date, both sonically and lyrically. A piano stalks out discrete chords as minimal Stax horns give the song an almost dexterous trot. Shineywater's hazy vocals, blessed with the gospel contours of sisters Ann and Regina McCreary, tackle all manner of oppression-- "medicine," "fence line," "city light," and "store bought" are all noted-- and he and the sisters' chorus ("Nobody wants oppression/ We don't need oppression") is eerily hum-able. "Past a Weatherbeaten Fencepost" recalls early Funkadelic in both its slow metallic flange and swamp-soaked moans. "Hologram Buffalo" might be the most easily mocked Brightblack track yet-- it mentions tee-pees, clouds, rainbows, deer, and buffalo-- but after a short intro track it establishes the album's spacey ponder with a bubbling bass and Hughes' shyly playful keyboard leads. The featherweight orchestral moments of "A Rainbow Aims" are an obtuse nod to the West Coast psych-pop of Love or Buffalo Springfield.
Of course, every reference above needs a qualifier; any time you see "Funkadelic" or "Love" or "Spiritualized" please mentally insert "a crawling, paranoid, barely discernible version of," which is akin to saying that Brightblack still sound a lot like Brightblack. But the added signifiers-- and the glacial speed at which they float by-- lend a measure of specificity and detail to Motion to Rejoin that is wholly comforting; the musical embodiment of Shineywater detailing in the liner notes his preferred styles of tent and sleeping bag. It can be difficult to defend a band that still advocates quasi-batshit behavior like asking fans to bring crystals to its shows, but be thankful the only thing Brightblack are interested in rejoining is the wilderness: The farther they wander, the more magnetic they become.
- Andrew Gaerig, September 22, 2008