Bryan Deister – Spines of the Heart

Spines of the Heart

Even in the age of the internet, where such things are all too common, I’ve got a lot of respect for the musicians who take full responsibility in realizing their art. The projects of true solo artists are often inconsistent and imbalanced in their execution, but there’s a unique personality that tends to shine through in the best of them. Bryan Deister is a totally new name to me, and though his influences are apparent, there’s no doubting he’s carved a personal niche for himself. His album, Spines of the Heart definitely comes with its share of flaws, but it’s indeed been a while since a new artist impressed me like this.

Bryan Deister‘s EPK cites influences as varied as classical music and the work of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that Radiohead has had the final say in this guy’s musical groundwork. This isn’t a bad thing at all, especially considering the electronic mid-era Deister’s drawing upon mainly. Kid A, Amnesiac– even the short but relatively sweet The King of Limbs– all of these albums pulled me in as poignant examples of where rock may be heading in the 21st century. It was rock driven by full-bodied electronic textures, but it also came with a human heart. The result is atmospheric and passionate, and somehow still sounds fresh. Considering it’s been a decade-and-a-half (!) since Kid A was first released, suffice to say it’s a promising template to work with.

I see a lot of the same great things in Spines of the Heart. Considering the sort of influence Kid A has had on 21st century popular music, it’s crazy to think relatively few bands saw fit to follow that sound for themselves. In a way, the ‘electronic rock’ formula is perfect for a vibrant solo artist like Deister. Solo projects usually suffer from a lack of commitment to a well-rounded execution; drums may suffer, or the production ends up lopsided. I don’t think Bryan Deister‘s fallen into this common trap. While the production sometimes sounds a greater part amateurish than not, the instrumentation is nicely realized. An electronic-focused song like “All That I Have” is hard to imagine being given a more suitable rendition. I’d recommend Spines of the Heart first and foremost to those who share my love for Radiohead‘s experimental period. For what it’s worth, it’s pretty cool to see a young artist live up to the promise of that style and put his own twist on it.

It’s a stranger thing to note that Spines of the Heart is a double-disc affair, twenty-two songs long. For a solo artist of Bryan’s age, that’s something you seldom see. It’s more impressive still that the lion’s share of the material here is really worthwhile. Considering everything here could be defined as falling somewhere between minimalistic electronica and atmospheric rock, Deister covers an impressive amount of range. “All That I Have” is dark and electronic. For another example an hour later on, “Vacant Eyes” recalls the airy dream pop of a band like Beach House. Now that I’ve become pretty familiar with the album, I’d still say the biggest standout here is “Into the Sky”. The song sounds like it was written as an explicit attempt to marry Radiohead‘s characteristic drear with Bryan Wilson (of The Beach Boys) lavishly complex choral orchestrations.

That last note brings to note Bryan Deister‘s place as a vocalist on this album. I think solo artists should wear their voice with pride; it’s the one thing in a musician’s repertoire they can truly call their own. In Deister’s case, there are times here where his voice works remarkably well. “Into the Sky” impresses me most for the way he managed to imagine those vocal harmonies, but he’s no slouch in realizing them either. At his best, Bryan’s lead vocals sound not a far step away from Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke. The nasal croon plays perfectly into the template he’s using here.

Considering how good he sounds vocally in parts, it’s disappointing he sounds so lame in other parts. I remember listening to “Silent Screams” for the first time and thinking the song was nearly ruined by how amateurish his vocals turned out. I think the only truly weak thing about Bryan Deister‘s work here are the lyrics however. They tend to come off as bad angsty poetry almost to the point of self-parody. Wrist-slitting? Check. Tired metaphors about the sun rising, or saccharine stuff about looking into someone’s eyes? Check and check. Bryan Deister‘s a fantastic musician in most respects, and I do get that the music he’s playing favours a kind of morbid attitude. I just probably would have preferred to hear him vent his feelings lyrically with a little more tact.

Spines of the Heart is definitely a solid album in most respects however. Bryan Deister has some of the marks of a musical genius. After all, it’s not every day you see a young man aiming to compete with some of popular music’s best minds, both past and present. Sure, there are some things he could improve on, and the album may have benefited from a few tracks being cut, but in the end, I know I’ll remember Spines from the Heart long after the last lights have faded out.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: