Posts Tagged ‘Brick Bosso’

Los Angeles’ underground rising star Brick Bosso, the project led by MindFree and Ska’n’Bones keyboardist Keith Walsh, has started an unexpected transformation recently. A transformation that could be compared to a worm becoming an 80’s star, while skipping the butterfly step.

In a short lapse, Brick Bosso released two full albums, showing an impressive boom of inspiration. I decided to do a joint review, since they are somehow linked in the process. Brother albums? Sister album? The artwork being in both cases created by graphic artist Liliane Avalos, one may think it’s the case. Nonetheless, they are completely different from each other and the main link between them is precisely that very transformation, that sometimes separates a good record from a great one.

Phase 1: The worm.

1. Blues Song Don’t be misled by the title: this ain’t no blues song. The organ intro leads to a typical Brick Bosso, almost Beatles-esque, traditional pop song. The ska feel is still obvious in the choruses, while only suggested in the verses. A dramatic bridge brings a nice twist of mood. Keith Walsh’s voice is sometimes close to break, without reaching the point of no return however.

2. Everyone’s Hoping For A Great Answer A noisy intro brings promises, kept by a truly great guitar riff, courtesy of Anthony Feliciano, with energetic organ responses. Again, Brick Bosso doesn’t shy away from English pop in the bridge, that smartly features a short quote of ‘What A Wonderful World’. Brilliant song.

3. Looking For The Perfect Plaid Always that ska feel, with a more poignant bass line and intriguing synthesizer topping.

4. Literature Foreshadowing the next album “80’s Star”, “Literature” navigates into the 80’s new wave abundance of synthesizers. Beautiful mood. Though a bit short, this is another gem.

5. Under Control The crispy guitar is a signature of Brick Bosso’s past productions. Interestingly, Walsh sings like a teenage Ian Curtis. Deep, dramatic, yet lighter than our late Joy Division singer.

6. Not Quite Right Now if that’s not a children song, what is it? The double voice adds some (unwanted?) humour. Pleasant without being what I’d call absolutely essential.

7. Bully Walkie Talkie The vocoder makes this “Bully Walkie Talkie” easily memorable, though somehow less captivating than other tracks on this album. It can be the perfect single. The 90’s-sounding synths are an odd choice in my opinion.

8. Mouth Monster Oh, now that’s quite rare: a piano intro, smooth and almost romantic. The light swing and Mellotron-like strings make it irresistible. Singalong comes without even trying. Great infectious track.

9. Miss Begotten That could have been a good tune from the Korgis, who also carried on the Beatles pop spirits and took it to a more sophisticated level. Nice bass, to say the least.

10. From A Worm To A Butterfly A new wave-infused intro and a catchy chorus make this “Worm” a potential single and possible stage favourite.

Phase 2: the star.

1. Perfect One may immediately think: that’s another typical Bosso song. But there’s something new: the real and sincere smoothness of synth. The out-of-tune bells coming out of the blue are quite beautiful.

2. Wicked What a captivating song! Full sound, quasi-hypnotic electronic snare, funny voice FX serve a tasty arrangement. Not to forget the cool synth bass.

3. Enhanced Brick Bosso breaks the speed limit with a fast song that starts with a heavy brass synth intro, before leaving space for synth bass and some rock piano.

4. Eyes Everywhere (Okuloj Ĉie) Anyone remembers the Esperanto language? I love the heavily echoed drums, the again Beatles-esque parts, and the superb atmosphere thanks to the synthesizer. Cool synth solo but I’m less enthusiastic about the guitar solo, that I find too self-conscious, if it makes any sense.

5. 80s Star Strangely the least synth-oriented song of the album, considering the title, this is the most natural, organic, and should I say least 80’s-sounding? Pay attention to the lyrics!

Keith Walsh: ’80s Star’ is an ironic song because though I never became a star, in fact my music career went very wrong, while at the same time several of my lovers and bandmates did become huge 80s stars. That coda you refer reflects my lifelong wish to have one of these projects record and release one or more of my songs.”

“In addition to the irony, the concept of ’80s Star’ portrays the dialectic of fame, how someone can reach the heights of fame and fortune, but then in middle age find him or herself with financial or romantic problems. The entire album is about the ups and downs of stardom, about love, despair, and redemption.’

6. Woe Superb hypnotic synth intro, echoed drums and low voice: “Woe” is Tangerine Dream meets Joy Division.

7. All We Are The butterfly visits the IQ / Yes territory with another great riff, followed by a haunting whistle synth.

8. 8 Billion Beautiful People Wasn’t the hippie movement born in California? Obviously it’s still alive in this hymn to human kind. Some might think of it as a cynical view, others might find it sissy, but as a song it’s a great way to close an album. Brick Bosso’s transformative album. That great album.

Keith Walsh: ‘8 Billion Beautiful People’ is a sincere song celebrating the value of every person. Sure, it’s idealized, as there are people with flaws that make them irredeemable. The song is also kind of a hippy song, celebrating peace and love. I would say it has a spiritual meaning–it’s meant to provoke thought about seeing the good in others.”

Controversy If you visit Brick Bosso on Bandcamp (https://brickbosso.bandcamp.com), you’ll notice a different track listing, with the song ‘Lucky Magic (Metroid)’ being part of the album, while on Spotify it’s a separate single. Actually, Keith Walsh doesn’t hesitate to poke at people who hurt him, whether it’s an employer or his former fellow musicians who he worked with just before they hit it big with Berlin (the band, not the city). If you think ‘Lucky Magic (Metroid)’ bears some resemblance with Berlin’s ‘The Metro’, you can’t be more right. We asked Keith Walsh to explain the reason why.

Keith Walsh: I deleted ‘Lucky Magic (Metroid)’  off the streaming distribution of the album except for Bandcamp because it’s a sound-a-like of the Berlin song ‘The Metro’ and includes soundbites from Berlin members. There’s some legal protection for things like that but if my old friends in Berlin asked me to take it down, it’s easy on Bandcamp, but on Spotify, Apple Music etc I would have had to recall the entire album. However, ‘Lucky Magic’ is available on all streaming platforms as a single.’ (They’re soundbites from VH1 Bands Reunited featuring Berlin, from about 2004. Samples are Terri Nunn, John Crawford, David Diamond and unknown narrator.)

I like to include a naughty song on every album. My first was ‘Here Comes Mr. Faketapes’ ‘The Hyper Supermarket’ (about a former employer) was a recent one, as was ‘Mouth Monster.’ And another was ‘Leaky Connections. These songs are messages to people who have hurt me in some way. ‘Lucky Magic’ is my newest and most naughty song experiment so far.

Brick Bosso. Photo by Anthony Feliciano.

Brick Bosso. Photo by Anthony Feliciano.

“From A Worm To A Butterfly” and “80s Star” were released within a mere 2 month lap. Is it that you had a sudden, unexpected blast of inspiration, or was it carefully planned? Can one be the volume two of the other, in a way?

Keith Walsh: It was actually four months, but yeah, I had some reservations about releasing actually three albums in 8 months (Birds and Believers was released on the first day of spring, Worm to A Butterfly on the first day of Summer.).Part of it was definitely being inspired to write, and making an effort to write more, but a major factor was having fewer distractions because of the global quarantine.

 

Aren’t you afraid that releasing two albums so close to each other in time would spoil their promotion? I mean, people usually love to get used to a record, and wait a year or more before the next one comes out.

Keith Walsh: Yes, I had some reservations, but promotion and marketing is something I worry little about. My main concern is just to create something good, and to have it heard. I don’t have the patience required to wait before releasing something, once I have a collection of 8 or 10 songs that are ready to go.

 

Both albums are rather short, from 27 to 30 minutes, which can make them fall into the EP category. Do you think that people are tired of 70-minutes long albums that became the norm since the CD arrived?

Keith Walsh: They’re short, but they have at least 8 songs each. It’s more about my short attention span than any concern about people’s preferences. It’s probably a lack of planning that stopped me from putting in an extra verse of chorus for a guitar or keyboard solo that would stretch the songs out a bit. In MindFree we have plenty of solos, and as a result the songs are longer.

 

With the “80s Star” album, you seem to take bold steps in experimentation (I’m talking about the songwriting), yet staying into a pleasant melodic mold. Have you consciously changed your songwriting approach? 

Keith Walsh: It wasn’t so much a conscious change as it was just letting things happen. I used to think very actively about using a ‘intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle 8 /outro’ structure, but lately, and especially on 80s Star I’m relaxing a bit and just letting the songs happen. Part of that comes from not wanting to do the same thing over and over again.

 

The cover artwork of both albums has been designed by Liliane Avalos. How did you meet her and how do you guys collaborate? Is she inspired by your music?

Keith Walsh: I approached Liliane after seeing her work on the Facebook page of a friend, Cirilo Rios, aka CD Rios, who also recorded and is mixing MindFree’s debut album. In fact, her artwork inspires me to perform better. I asked for her work on 80s Star before I was done, and then was motivated to finish sooner than I might have. Her work on both albums is so, so good.

 

Mostly with “80s Star”, your sound is less ska, warmer, more into synthesizers. Is your work with MindFree allowing you to loosen up a bit and explore different universes?

Keith Walsh: Playing with Mark and Moe in MindFree definitely changed me stylistically, because of their different influences. “All We Are” has a progressive rock riff that I wouldn’t have even tried except that these guys gave me confidence to try something more complex. Moe has played jazz, world music and rock, Mark is into prog, indie, and everything. We have a lot in common musically, but it’s the differences that helped me grow. The fact that the songs are more synth based is partly just a stylistic choice, and partly because keyboards have always been my main instrument. A few years ago I was learning guitar and was writing everything on an electric or acoustic, but felt, especially on 80s Star, that an abundance of keyboards was appropriate.

 

“Woe” starts with beautiful hypnotic synths, before segueing into a more typical Brick Bosso mood. Have you ever thought of letting yourself go and create some techno instrumental music, à-la DJ?

Keith Walsh: Someone recently suggested I could make some money doing music for meditation and massage music. I said ‘I have a friend named Gilles who does that.’ As for DJ and instrumental techno, I haven’t thought about it much. I think “Eyes Everywhere” is the closest to that techno sound. But this ties into the previous questions, part of why I’m exploring new sounds is because of all the new synths the latest releases of my DAW have added. Another part is just wanting to break away from bass/drums/guitar/organ/piano and try new things, partly because I didn’t want to repeat myself.

 

Do you construct the songs as ideas arrive, or do you first record demos?

Keith Walsh: I usually have a melody or a theme in my head that I can build a song around. Then I’ll sit at the piano and create some chords, verses and choruses, for the songs. The demos are just recordings I do on my phone. This is also so I don’t forget what my inspiration was. Then in my DAW I flesh out the song and do the arrangement.

 

Are there unreleased songs from these two albums? If so, why aren’t they released on the albums, is it a matter of not suiting the concept, or simply you don’t feel they’re good enough?

Keith Walsh: There might be a couple fragments that haven’t developed yet. “Under Control” from “Worm To A Butterfly” is something from 2016 or so, but I didn’t feel that it was strong enough. Then in 2020 I added some parts and now I feel it’s one of the better ones. Same for “Wicked” and “Enhanced” which are from 2012 or so, and show up on “80 Star”. I rummaged through my hard drive and was able to mix them and add parts, as well as add new lyrics (for Wicked) that I feel made them something worth listening to.

 

Are songs from these two albums becoming live material for MindFree?

Keith Walsh: So far, “All We Are” is the only one that MindFree is doing now. We played it at rehearsal today and it’s sounding awesome.

 

About MindFree, is it a reference to some 70’s seminars like the EST training or Mind Dynamics, that so many artists loved to join?

Keith Walsh: MindFree comes from the title of a song that Mark wrote, one of the first ones we played after getting together. It’s a song inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, not about one of those inspirational programs at all. But definitely we try to be inspiring and positive in our music and message, and don’t mind that our band name could be thought of that way. The name MindFree is definitely meant to have associations with positivity and inspiration, something we all believe in and try to live every day.

 

The listening corner

Brick Bosso on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6UFTEtXrJ9asWWv6MvD45B

80’s Star special: https://brickbosso.hearnow.com/80s-star

Liliane Avalos: https://www.lilianeavalos.com

MindFree: https://www.facebook.com/MindFreeBand

Ska’n’Bones: https://m.facebook.com/skanbones

BRICK BOSSO, Birds And Believers (2020)

Brick Bosso 2020

The underground Californian scene is as boiling as ever, with Brick Bosso’s brand new album Birds And Believers.

Brick Bosso’s apparently light Californian tone hardly hides some more socially ambitious lyrics, going from a playful look to the retail world (the up-tempo piano-driven The Hyper SuperMarket) to the story of homeless person on Walk Away, a Hollywood Boulevard vs Downtown LA-inspired song, emphasizing on the thin, very thin line between the fortunate and the unfortunate in our society. Walk Away shows welcomed fragility in Brick Bosso’s voice, making the song surprisingly emotional. The presence of a vocoder doesn’t spoil anything, quite the opposite.

Social issues has always been ska’s speciality, should we remind you that Brick Bosso is heavily into the genre? The opener Storks And Vultures with its driving beat and 60’s organ, is rather reminiscent of Bosso’s previous release Ska Time.

However the range of influences is wider here, like Hollywood Heroes, a delicate piece that slightly reminds me of Bruce Wooley’s Camera Club English Garden album, if anyone remembers. The heroes here are not who you’d think they are, Brick Bosso picturing the people dressed up as superheroes and cartoon character on Hollywood Boulevard, trying their best to make some money.

Brick Bosso seize the opportunity to tackle the apathy of politics on the ska-punk I Don’t Care At All, politics that he depicts as being theatre of the absurd.

The protest songs influence is even more obvious on the quasi-dylanesque Secular Song,  sung with a camp voice and a more flamboyant style.

The mysterious Spazzmatazz is drifting away from ska, led by a driving bass and some almost chanted ‘It could happen to you, it could happen to you’. Brick Bosso invites his old friend and musical partner Mark Abbruzzese.

With the irresistibly melodic closer Birds And Believers, Brick Bosso unleashes the poet within and pays a tribute to the Monkees’ Daydream Believer.

Available on Bancamp: https://brickbosso.bandcamp.com/album/birds-and-believers

Is Brick Bosso new hype of 2020’s Californian underground? With its song-based psychedelic, adventurously raucous rock, bringing melodies back in a world where it now only belongs to some sophisticated acts, this mysterious project suddenly reveals a new side of its talent, adding to that a connection with the raising glories of West Coast ska: Ska’N’Bones.

If Ska was popularised in the late 70’s, early 80’s, thanks to the boldness of the well-named band Madness, the origins of this genre date long before that. It was, in a nutshell, the 1950’s precursor of reggae, which whom it shares rhythmic similarities. Some say ska is reggae on vitamins (or any upper substance), while it would be more logical to see reggae as ska on weed.

Here comes Mr Ska Time, real tapes and real ska.

From the first notes of “Leaky Connections”, you know it’s Brick Bosso. And you know it’s ska. The good news is that Brick Bosso doesn’t pastiche ska; he lives it. To the bones. (pun intended)

You distinguish the unmistakeable trademark of Bosso, that almost Lennonesque acid in the voice and guitars, the sometimes surprising chords change (“All Of These Dreams”) that remind us that there’s a very competent musician behind the project.

Brick Bosso going ska isn’t a surprise when you dig deeper in his blurred identity: it happens that the common ground with Ska’N’Bones is hard to deny.

It may take a private detective to dig under Brick Bosso’s mystery, yet the man himself wasn’t too reluctant to answer our almost innocent questions.

You joined Ska’N’Bones sometimes after you had already launched your Brick Bosso career. Would have “Ska Time” have existed without becoming part of Ska’N’Bones? Or was a ska album already a plan of yours anyway?
Brick Bosso: I had created two Brick Bosso [https://brickbosso.bandcamp.com/] albums before Ska ‘N’ Bones assembled, which, when we finally released Smally Fingers then played live, inspired me to write songs in the Ska style for a third album. All the fun of reuniting with old friends plus the energetic mania of Ska music motivated me to create Ska Time as a spin-off of Ska ‘N’ Bones.

How different is your writing approach of ska with the two projects?
Brick Bosso: Having the parameters of a Ska beat just made it easier to formulate the tunes. I had already conceived of “Leaky Connections” as a kind of manic new wave song, so when I was finishing it to present to Mike and Jon, I added the Ska beat which motivated and propelled me. A good beat always helps, and this period of writing for Ska Time was lots of fun because I had been re-infected with the Ska bug.

Will the “Ska Time” album bring live material for Ska’n’Bones?
Brick Bosso: We’ve already performed “Leaky Connections” live and I hope that there will be others.

With “Housing Crisis”, you blur the boundaries between ska and reggae. How would you really differentiate the two styles?
Brick Bosso: As I understand it, Ska was created first in Jamaica of the 50’s, then was adapted to become reggae at a slower tempo to make it cooler for the dancers in crowded clubs. This story could be totally apocryphal however. The best of both genres are concerned with issues of social justice, though there are obviously examples of cool love songs in both.

For sure, “Housing Crisis” is the gem of the album, with its reggae-infused skank and intriguing synthesized brass. It also brings a more socially assertive lyrics on the table.

Brick Bosso: I’m aware that as a white man my reggae creds require of the listener a bit of suspension of disbelief, but the issue-the high cost of housing, which is a literally life-threatening reality all around me in California–seemed like a natural topic for a reggae tune. And the melody as I was writing it fit the slower tempo, so I went with it. Reggae did catch my ear as a child, but when the second wave of Ska arrived around 1979 –The Specials, Madness, The English Beat and Selecter — my head exploded. The combination of social justice issues, romantic discontent, and fun upbeat mania was the perfect mix. It was off the charts fun and still affects me in a ways no other genre of music does. And yes, I think that having Reggae as a vehicle almost cries out for social content. When writing housing crisis I very intentionally created it almost as homage to those great reggae artists from Jamaica I first heard in the 70s. I think it shows most in the synth brass arrangement and the drum sounds. Social content is not necessary but Ska and Reggae do beg for it.

Another tune is called “(I Wanna Be) Legitimate” and despite its title, doesn’t raise any question: it only confirms that Brick Bosso is legitimate in the ska world. To the point of leaving Ska’N’Bones behind, as just a stepping stone? The closer “Bye Bye Bones” may make us wonder. Still, Bosso corrects that ““Bye Bye Bones” was written in an extended period of inactivity between the first Ska ‘N’ Bones single and the recording of four additional songs for our first EP. My imagination went wild, as it often does, and the resulting song is a speculative, humorous look at my concerns about not hearing anything from my pals in the band, because they were all very busy with other gigs. Funny fact: the sound bites at the beginning and end are excerpts from recordings Mike, Jon and I made as promos for Ska Parade on Dirty Radio… I’m not going solo–Brick Bosso is a separate project but is not exclusive.”

40 years after the early 80’s ska boom, Bosso and Ska’N’Bones might be the twins that will renew the genre.

Brick Bosso, “Ska Time”, available on Amazon, CD Baby, Apple Music, Bandcamp and Google Music.

 

I didn’t want to start this review with the same old moans about how great music was in the past and how boring it is now. But I will. I love being an old fart. In the evolution of rock, let’s say from “Rock Around The Clock” until now, there has been some periods, clear evolutions and devolutions that led us to what the music market is now: music either impersonating past eras on an embarrassing parody, either bland and unbearably safe. Live venues are polluted by cover bands and audiences are fooled to the point of thinking that Muse is really a rock band. Where are the melodies?

Brick Bosso stole them.

Most known for his huge knowledge on synthesizers and his flair to discover unique artists all over the world, Brick Bosso somehow decided, maybe without even knowing it, to become the most British act from California.

The press release is as short as it can be, stating that “Equipped with only a minimalist studio and guitars, tons of talent, and his curse-breaking tenacity, Brick Bosso finally releases his debut album.

When asked to clarify the issue of the music style he’s conveying, Bosso keeps it vague: “I’m happy to tell some stories in songs– stories that I might not have had a chance to articulate if I hadn’t picked up my guitar.”

Stories. “Dark Exposure” is all about stories, articulated words matching their melody that could almost rank Bosso in the crooner box. “I think the thing I value most about writing songs is the ability to tell stories and present views of things that are unusual or awkward to express in everyday life.”

On the short 35 minutes spread into 12 songs (two being download bonuses), Brick Bosso shows a talent that may hide a devouring ambition to conquer a niche and crush other musicians. But always unassuming, he humbly states that “Ideally the album will get just enough attention to attract a few musicians so I can assemble a team, kind of like the way The Avengers or The Justice League were assembled, only on a much, much smaller budget, and even louder.”

Dark Exposure” has what a good album needs: an unity and enough variety to keep the listener satisfied, from the first notes of the sunny beach anthem “Watching The Sun Come Up” to the last beat of the acoustic-driven “Strange Transcendent Mary”, making Mary rhyme with Hello Kitty under a comfy blanket of Mellotron strings.

I told before that Bosso had a soft spot for analog machines, yet the synthesizers are strangely low-key in the record. They make an apparition here and there, but besides the New Order infused “The Day And The Night” and its dissonant guitars fighting with an uncontrollable synth-bass, they mostly leave space for a dominative Farfisa organ, sometimes 60s on steroids, sometimes even punk (“Was”). The organ leaves its comfort zone to do the perfect match with new-wave guitars on the fascinating “Flow With It”, or sympathises with an almost industrial drum machine on “True Believer”.

The 60’s feel comes here and there, especially with “Mary On My Mind” that sounds McCartney-ish even before hearing some of the confirming lyrics.

The obvious single that could smash the radios is the infectious “Here Comes Mr. Faketapes”, that asks for explanation, such a title being obviously anything but innocent. Brick Bosso provides it when asked about the future of his promising musical career. Brick Bosso came on album as unexpectedly as he might withdraw, since he’s not a heavy planner and when asked if he could release something new sometimes near, he smiles and shrugs:

Well, now that I’ve called out the false claimants (Find Your Heart Again), criticized the tape fabricators (Here Comes Mr. Faketapes) and addressed Marian apparitions (Strange Transcendent Mary), there’s not much more for me to do, other than sit back and play my ukulele.

Seeing that his statement was hard to believe from such a creative man, he slightly corrects: “I’m tinkering with some other songs, but as far as making “dark exposure” suddenly obsolete by creating a follow up, I’m not ready for that yet.”

Really? Can this be true. Bosso looks irritated and, as if he wanted to please us just to get rid of annoying questions, he closes the interview by dropping “I really don’t know what’s next. I’m writing some more in a more classic rock and blues vein, this time mostly using piano. We’ll see.

Yes we’ll see. And in waiting, let’s keep on hearing and listening to the “Dark Exposure” album from someone who’ll get to be known, despite himself, maybe.

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Brick Bosso, “Dark Exposure”, 2017.

Available at https://brickbosso.bandcamp.com/

Album purchase includes two bonus tracks, “Conversations (We Might Have Had)” and “Waiting For The Paradox”.