BRYAN DEISTER’S BIO claims he ventures off into “All of the 20th century composition techniques and styles.” Ambitious. Not many have succeeded in crossing multiple boundaries, so I listened with anticipation. But within the Californian’s 22-song opus Spines Of The Heart, I discovered music that was in reality unilateral in genre. Helping to funnel the music even further towards a singular dimension was the clear influence of Thom Yorke’s solo efforts hanging over proceedings. Not to judge Yorke, but merely to make a point about new artists unmistakably pledging allegiance where carving out their originality might be preferable.
With the recipe of alternating balladic refrain and high-energy prog-like interruption being so concise and repetitive, the sheer length of the album caused me to fidget, and the muddy mix rendered the audio down to a form of narrow-screened ‘miniaturescope’ (despite the mastering of master masterer, Bernie Grundman). That means many good ideas were not realised to anywhere near their full potential. The sound also could’ve benefited from a modest investment in hardware synthesizers (and real guitars) which would’ve made all the difference to the audio quality.
The clear highlight of Deister’s work is his facility with melody which is often captivating. He refers to what he does as dark music, but it’s not really. The melodies are often too pretty to be considered dark and the voice too soft (and quiet in level), despite the occasional screeching episode such as at the end of ‘Gone’, which only serves to confirm Bryan’s belonging to the pretty and soft vocal firmament. That’s not a criticism – this is an apples and oranges thing I’m talking about here and every artist is superior in their attempts at one or the other. Deister merely excels more at the moody and the mellow, which is borne out by ‘Into The Sky’ and its enticing three-part vocal harmonies that leave you wanting more. Sadly, other attempts at dynamism (like several songs that enter a loud section towards their climax) don’t come off satisfactorily due to the aforementioned lack of mixing clarity.
So what we have in Spines Of The Heart is a well-intentioned collection of pieces that probably bears much similarity in style to Deister’s listening preferences of recent years, a tribute to his inspirations and an enthusiastic attempt to equal them. But some serious research into what’s gone before both musically and sonically could’ve made this project more artistically successful and expanded its awareness of what’s already been done extremely well. Such an approach could’ve helped curb its cookie-cutter tendencies, which is the best road sign there is to swerve you to the left and hopefully closer to yourself. PETER KEARNS
Music = 3/5