Blake Brown – Harboring Secrets

Blake Brown
Harboring Secrets

The opening moments of Blake Brown’s sophomore release, the shouted “Just one war” that marks the first sounds on Harboring Secrets, is one of the most raw and emotional moments I’ve heard put to record. It shows a stark contrast to this enigmatic singer/songwriter, the dichotomy between stark and delicate and raw and impassioned. It’s a line Brown treads on Harboring Secrets in a way that few other musicians or even full bands could tread, and those opening moments perfectly set the stage for an album of almost unparalleled passion.

Emotion has always been a part of this Colorado singer/songwriter’s music. On the beautiful Flicker and Fade, his first solo full-length, Brown’s high-pitched and delicate voice drifts around acoustic guitar and soft melodies to spin emotional and personal lyrics with beautiful music. On Harboring Secrets, he takes his music to another level, approaching the album with a full-band feel, entwining moments of power and raw intensity with his soft and melodic beauty.

There are traces of pure emotional passion on Harboring Secrets that call to mind the origins of emo, with its raw and personal lyrics, its powerful yet melodic guitars, its strong rhythms. Then there are lovingly crafted melodies and stark vocals akin to singer/songwriters like Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst. These styles are worked together so that even the most powerful moments, such as on the opening “War” are tempered by beauty within the same song.

When Brown repeats “Give up the fight” on the title track over strong acoustic guitar, his voice cracks just slightly, and his emotions are starkly evident. It’s a more powerful moment that can be contrasted by the bare-bones beauty of “Let the Sun Burn,” with lyrics like “Rest your bones now with the weight of regret.” This track is quiet and lovely, but also dark and striking with some gorgeous haunting cello and moments of sheer raw power as Brown’s voice sings softly, “Only remember me by the love that I bring, nothing else,” over screamed lyrics stark in the background. It’s a defining moment on this album.

The quiet acoustic-based approach provides a stark feel to “Shades of Everything,” whose harmonica provides a haunting accompaniment. Cello again provides the mood to the rich and echoey “I Won’t Make a Sound,” with its glorious acoustic guitar chiming in the background. On “Paperwings,” a gorgeous full band sound, with Afghan Whigs-esque guitar and a swaying vocal style, shows Blake’s talent beyond a simple Elliott Smith approach, and the lyrics provide a stark look at disappointment and brittle hope. The album’s closing moments, on an untitled but listed track, bring to mind those that opened the album, with powerful and driving guitar mixed with cello, sung and almost shouted vocals, and moments of quiet melodic beauty mixing with impassioned intensity. And for all the album’s intense beginning, its quiet and soothing finish is the perfect bookend.

Blake Brown isn’t plagued with what leads many to scoff at the emo or singer/songwriter genre: his music isn’t whiny or lo-fi or too obvious and pleading. It’s rich with poetic yet personal lyrics, his voice finding a contrast between emotional and beautiful, his melodies strong and soaring. Despite not yet finding a label home, Brown’s music deserves to be heard, to find an audience that will surely be struck by its emotional weight. Harboring Secrets is a moment of genius in a young singer/songwriter’s career, one that will define the artist and hopefully find the recognition he sorely deserves.