Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Our Life Could Be Your Band

Artists: Franklin Bruno; Nothing Painted Blue
Albums: A Bedroom Community (FB); Power Trips Down Lovers Lane, Placeholders, Emotional Discipline (NPB)
Source: Bought used (ABC, Placeholders); bought new (ED); promo (PTDLL)

One of the signature differences between rockers from the 60s/70s heyday and the post-punk nowadays is that the musicians are less likely to adopt the pose of the Golden God. Plant, Daltrey, Jagger, etc., were figures that the audience looked up to and/or aspired to be. Hot & cold running chicks, booze, drugs and whatever other debauchery was on tap...the audience didn't look up at the elevated stage and see themselves; they saw a fantasy of who they wanted to be at that moment.

Flash forward to anyone from Patti Smith to Kurt Cobain, and you had the rocker who seemed to aspire to be just like his or her audience. It creates an enormously changed dynamic between performer and audience, with the stage a lot closer to the floor, the curtain swept aside. D. Boon said his band could be your life, but the inverse was true, too.

Franklin Bruno is a singular exemplar of this contemporary rock pose. He is nobody's picture of a Golden God rocker: balding, a little pudgy, big glasses, and a vocabulary that does nothing to hide his day job as an academic. Instead of wailing about "giving you every inch of my love," Bruno writes an ode to a fetching meter maid with the lyric, "She's cherubic/She's seraphic/She's omniscient/When it comes to traffic" and wraps it in prickly new-wave-ish guitar squiggles.

If any of this sounds like I'm putting down Bruno (and/or his estimable band, Nothing Painted Blue), nothing could be further from the truth. As an overeducated "knowledge worker" who recoils at the idea of a gym membership, Bruno speaks to me and my ilk in a way that never fails to bring a smile. When Lee and I ran into him at a used bookstore the afternoon of a NPB gig, there was no entourage to push past and no artifice to cut through. The guy we got to chat with for a few minutes was the same guy who took the stage that night...which doesn't diminish the appeal of the artist since it more or less is the appeal.

Like wrapping your mind around a passage of David Foster Wallace prose, Bruno's hyper-literate songwriting style both sounds smart and makes you feel a little brainier as a listener. The topics of his songs revolve around relationships, sure, but in unusual ways that are so specific they make the idea of connecting to another person sound like a bewildering adventure. Those songs sit comfortably beside his other concerns, which range from office furniture ("Swivel Chair") and weather patterns ("El NiƱo") to unplanned pregnancy ("Another Child Bride") and creepy sleepovers ("Houseguest"). When the melodies and guitars and tightly rocking presentations wrap around songwriting this interesting, you end up with a stream of songs that hit several of the pleasure points at the same time and always address you straight in the eye, and not from the untouchable position of the high & mighty rock star.

SISOSIG? To the best of my knowledge NPB is no longer a going concern (Bruno's got a new band, The Human Hearts, that I need to look into more deeply), so I think this is the bulk of the band's catalogue (I'm missing 1 or 2 releases overall). Bruno's got a bunch more solo material, some of which I've got on seven-inches, and some of which I might someday want to get my hands on. But all told, Bruno's songs and style don't overlap much with other bands in The Beast and as such scratch very specific itches. I'm especially partial to the singles compilation (Emotional Discipline), but really there's nothing here that I don't get enormous pleasure from with every play.

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