Bitter, Bitter Weeks – S/T

A longtime producer for bands such as The Burning Brides, Matt Pond PA, Eltro, and Mazarin, Brian McTear was first a musician. Despite his penchant for producing bands with a lush, rich sound, his own personal preferences have pointed toward folk and avant-noise rock. Bitter, Bitter Weeks, his solo debut, definitely leans more toward the former, but there may be elements of the latter to be heard here and there as well.
The real focus on this album is McTear’s vocals. Strong and confident, they spin complicated yet deeply personal lyrics with a kind of honest sincerity. Although taking a folk approach to his music, McTear’s lyrics are much more personal and poetic than much of the folk canon, and it fits the soft musical approach perfectly. The primary instruments at use here are acoustic guitars and banjo, providing a background to McTear’s strong voice, but pedal steel, organ, and backing vocals (by Matt Pond and Quentin Stoltzfus of Mazarin among others) are used extremely well.
One of the best songs starts off the album, as McTear sings to a banjo accompaniment on “Sage.” When he repeats “It’s been a long time coming” at the song’s end, there’s a kind of desperation in his voice. The more upbeat “TN” has a bit lighter feel, while the pedal steel adds a country feel to “Taking Pills.” Often lacking here is a sense of percussion, and it’s provided by electronics on the stellar “Daylight Savings is Over.” A subtle electronic pulse provides a repetitive nature to the song, and the guitars more than adequately ride that element. McTear’s lyrics may be at their strongest here, as he sings “it’s fear that gets us dressed every morning” among other strong lines.
McTear recorded most of these songs live to a single mic, which demonstrates his talent. You wouldn’t even know “The Best Days of My Life” was live until hearing the applause at the end of the song. As shown on that song and “Happiness,” even McTear’s supposedly happier songs have a melancholy feel. “Happiness may be neither made nor destroyed,” he sings on the latter. The starkness of “You paralyze My Heart” and “Trouble” perfectly suit the heartfelt lyrics and would appeal to fans of Dashboard Confessional, while there’s a hint of Johnny Cash-like urgency with a pop sensibility to “Earthquake.” By contrast, “Still as a Stream” is dark and moody, with McTear singing, “suicide always gets swept under the rug.”
It’s no surprise that the production on McTear’s self-titled debut is excellent. There’s just a hint of an echoed quality to his vocals that truly bring them out, and the guitar is perfectly crisp and clean. Those elements allow McTear’s words to shine, and they do, proving him a talented singer/songwriter in addition to a talented producer. Bitter, Bitter Weeks is a melancholy display of sincerity often found lacking in angst-ridden music popular today, and it’s a welcome addition.