George Washington Brown
On the Night Plain
here’s a segment right at the end of “See Yourself Right Pt.2” where, not to put too fine a point on it, the drums go absolutely apeshit. It creeps up slowly, testing your resolve for noise and disruption as the volume smoothly increases. Oh that’s nice, you think, this Washington Brown chap has put some walloping drums on the end of this piece. Then they keep getting louder. And LOUDER. And ... hang on, are my speakers going to be ok with this? Didn’t those windows previously have glass in them?
This frantic bash-a-thon might have a deep and perplexing artistic reason for existing, but it seems more likely it was added for a laugh. Or maybe George just wanted to beat the hell out of some drums and see how it translated to record. Incidentally, George Washington Brown isn’t this gentleman’s real name. I know this because the top GWB in the eyes of the internet is a controversial anti-slavery journalist and Kansas newspaper editor from the 19th Century. The other GWB was a recording alias for Van Dyke Parks in the mid ‘60s. And this GWB is a recording alias for the brother of a current BBC presenter and ex-musician (who happens to be in the unenviable position of being involved with the Mercury Prize). This GWB is presumably anti-slavery as well.
I’m not sure whether any of this information really needs to be kept semi-mysterious, but it feels more fun that way.
In contrast to all this enigmatic pretension, the record itself feels open-armed and friendly. And, importantly, still fun. It starts in an almost timid fashion, with lone voice and acoustic guitar emerging from some understated drones and chimes, mumbling about hearts and brains and other Wizard of Oz-like matters. As this motley collection of notes make their way down the yellow brick road, they gain courage in voice and by the time their song is closing it feels as though a full chorus is linking arms and skipping in unison, delighting in the fact that “it still rains.”
This variety also bleeds into the structural arrangement of the songs, with the majority of them throwing out a double bluff as to how they’ll eventually develop. If a track starts off as a gentle, minimalist number, chances are it’ll have zoomed through some fuzzed-out guitar and a wobbly, ambient middle eight by the time the closing bars come around. That’s in keeping with the lightly psychedelic vibe of the work—where “psychedelic” means occasionally woozy rhythms, cosmic space noise, and harmonious vocal overlays by the score. Even when raising his voice, Mr. Washington Brown stays true to the generally laid back atmosphere he weaves, enhanced by a series of trills and tinkles of music-box pitch. Through this breezy, easy haze, the odd unadorned pop tune emerges—not least “Homecoming Hair,” which is somewhat reminiscent of the easygoing bounce of Blur’s “Coffee and TV.” Except with a far more interesting title, obviously.
Even when covering uncomfortable voicemail messages and other such relationship unpleasantness, the record progresses with a quiet grace. By uniting relatively disparate elements, Brown molds a situation where brief stretches of meandering ambience can mix merrily with muted chanting and bright, jangling melody. It’s a mixed-up world, where anybody lulled into complacency by extended cozy passages runs the risk of being jolted out of their cocoon—because the unexpected can, and will, descend at any moment. And when it does, it might destroy your double glazing.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2007-08-15