Upon receipt of Intuit from Barsuk Records, I was immediately excited for the first listen. I am a fan of Brent Knopt’s primary gig in the Portland trio Menomena and as the last of the three to take on a side project, I was immensely curious what his solo debut would sound like. Upon first listen, the wide-ranging tracks begged for a more intimate listen. Not many albums will make me hunt for the connector cable so that I can move the songs over onto my iPod, but this album needed to be taken out into another setting.
The next day, I found my seat on the train where I could listen to the album in its entirety through my headphones, engaged and focused on the musical details, with the rest of the world wizzing past my eyes through the window. This album is best heard unfocused on the world around and just allowing any surroundings to be little more than color and shapes. After several listens, to and from work on the train at various times of the day and night, I continue to find new details in the musical layers upon each listen.
“Melectric”, an perfect opener to such a musically diverse album and one of the strongest tracks, immediately grabbed my full and undivided attention. The first notes creep in, the sad piano keys piercing the silence until drums clack the beat under Knopt’s melodiy. The emotions intensify, swelling with plinking keys until it breaks loose with beautifully rich guitar layers and Knopf’s words , “please don’t you give me false hope / you’re free to go”. I look down and there are goosebumps on my arms.
It might be difficult for an album to stand up to the strength of the opening track but with Intuit each song on the album maintains its own identity, like each track is it’s own little production. With 35 guest appearances from bands like The Helio Sequence, Mirah, Talkdemonic, Nice Nice and Loch Lomond, to name a few, it’s not surprising that the album features a wide stylistic range throughout. Despite the possibility for a scatterbrained collection, the album holds strong and each track maintains a certain commonality through the writing and the emotional build within.
Following the amazing opener, “I Say Fever” threatens to wipe any memories of the previous track from your mind with a driving beat, piano interjections and mad, ripping guitar. The guitar in this song is fantastic and fitting with Knopf’s vocals that rise to a full out raging holler with the chorus line “IIII SAAAAY FEEEEVERRRR.” I am however not digging the chanting in the last 45 seconds of the track but love the banging of the piano keys.
Impressive instrumental combinations continues in “Russia”, which tells the tale of our hero as he travels through various lands and adventures including taming a Komodo dragon and teaching it to sit only to hear that “she said / too little, too late”. Incredible layering includes strings with electric guitar for an interesting and movie-like adventurous flair.
While most of the album maintains this epic feel, there are some moments of accessible and catchy near-pop tunes in “Clover” and “Bellyfulla”. The first features a simplistic, repetitious electronic beat, some whistling, moments of rise and fall along with catchy lyrics that leads out lovely alternating male and female repeating lines. “Bellyfulla”, the penultimte track, is a catchy little acoustic tune that rides along on fully layered background vocals, a light and catchy beat and a few choice piano additions.
With 11 tracks it can be difficult to nail them all. “Always Right” presents a challenge to the listener with what is the darkest song on the album. It starts out with what low register piano in a way that sounds like a movie-soundtrack to someone running away from something. The dissonance grows and the emotional instability is evident, even Knopf’s voice trembles as he sings with force. A couple moments of carnival-like diversions lighten the mood before squelched again by the tyrant that Knopf seems to be playing. But when it all comes down to it, the song is a little too scattered and is not an easy listen.
“The Darkest Day” begins with acoustic guitar that sounds anything but dark, perhaps optimistic and then is soon joined by piano keys and Knopf’s voice in a lower range. Female vocals swirl around and the overall feeling doesn’t seem so dark until after a minute passes, the music intensifies and the mood takes on a more haunting quality. Strings and piano enter three minutes in like tears welling up and running down cheeks. However the song ends triumphantly as if something has been overcome.
This album – full of longing, betrayal and exploration – closes with what I feel is the other of strongest tracks and an exquisite way to draw the curtain. “Diamond Shovel” is such a bittersweet and beautiful delicacy that potentially silly-sounding lyrics such as, “we were forged in / the explosion / below ocean / of emotion / liquid molten / magic potion” come off sounding heartfelt coming from Knopf’s amazing voice here. This track is all about his voice, which sounds nothing short of pure gorgeousness. It’s difficult to sum up this album in one word or one sentence other than to say that it’s albums like this that required the invention of the repeat button.