Brahm – Built to be Brought Down

Brahm
Built to be Brought Down

There are strange identity crises in electronic music. Call it the lack of face time for the artist, the “cold” nature of the music, or the over-abundance of bedroom artists, and you might have a point, but here’s my two cents: too many of these artists can’t figure out what the hell they want to do. Whereas electronic musicians have shown themselves capable of establishing a wide fan base through an established persona (Aphex Twin), the truly unique artists get more credit than they can handle (looking at you, Boards of Canada), the self-made bedroom-artist angle is part of what makes electronic music interesting in the first place, artists like Brahm – and about a million others, are simply too fickle in their fantasies to truly develop a sound.

Once you get past the cover art and realize that no, Brahm is not a death-metal band, it becomes clear pretty early that you’re dealing with electronic music. The industrial grind and the Ominous strings are supplemented with oscillating keyboards and, eventually, a head-over-heels sloppy drum machine beat. It’s a fantastic piece of music, recalling both the ominous nature of post-rockers like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the warmth and simplicity of new-shoegazers like M83, it’s one of the stronger moments on Built to be Brought Down,one of two albums Brahm released in 2004.

Over the course of the rest of Built to be Brought Down, however, Brahm has trouble developing any sort of style, his efforts hampered by his insistence on genre jumping. Take, for instance, the very next track (after “Out of the Ashes”): it’s a trip-hop fantasy land punctuated by a distorted, screaming voice. It’s slow, vaguely irritating, and fails to even hint at the bevy of moods and sounds touched upon in the first track. “Velvet” fares much better, though it feels similarly out of place. Warm piano chords open over digital crackle before Rachel Burke drops a smooth, after-the-rave chillout melody. “Catacombs” morphs from standard electronic track to alt-rock single at the drop of a hat, and it does so rather successfully – there is no self-conscious mixing of pop and electronica here – but you won’t be able to shake the feeling that a whole album of this stuff – for better or for worse – would at least allow concrete opinions to be drawn.

Elsewhere, Brahm sounds very much like a typical IDM artist, with perhaps more of a hip-hop head than most. When things go well – the jazzy hi-hat work and warm organ sounds of “The Stars in your Hair,” for example – everything sounds great, and no one questions main man Chaz Barber’s decisions to hop around. Too often, though, the music on Built to be Brought Down sounds like an electronic primer for anyone not really into underground music. The hip-hop breakbeats on “Wings like Razors,” the abrasive chug of “Start Laughing Now,” and the delicate keyboard patches on “A Chandelier of a Man” all sound like figments of someone else’s imagination.

Fortunately for Brahm, the songs never sound bad in isolation – for all of the types of electronic music Barber touches upon, he displays a remarkable amount of skill and nuance in each one. But when Built to be Brought Down is asked to stand as an album – and its release dictates that is must – things fall apart too easily. You’ll feel betrayed, though individual tastes will determine which tracks get scorned. Barber’s a talented – if not wholly unique – artist, and the compositions on Built to be Brought Down are highly developed and sometimes downright masterful. But this is a hard album to listen to, and equally difficult to fully recommend, just because it’s so scattered. It’s nice to see a composer take on so many styles with so much success, but the enjoyment is ultimately to hard-worn to warrant more than occasional listens.