We all discover bands in different ways. Sometimes it’s radio and sometimes it’s because of a recommendation from a friend. Sometimes it’s because you took a chance, sometimes it’s because of something you read and sometimes it’s because a band has an interesting sounding name. When it comes to the bands you like, the part of the story where you you first learned about the band is a small, but important part. It helps define the personal relationship you have with a band, which ultimately is what we all want.
So let’s talk about Brenda.
Brenda is a band that is half from sunny Portland, Maine and half from New York City. Or more specifically one fourth from New York City and the rest from Portland, Maine. If you are unfamiliar with the music scene in Portland, Maine, then you should know that it is a fertile incubator of interesting and talented bands playing a wide variety of music. The biggest band to come out is Rustic Overtones and sometimes that dominates the conversation. But that’s fair. Give credit where credit is due. I always thought Portland’s scene was a microcosm of the music scene in America. Mainstream bands, all musical genres represented and a proud indie rock scene. It’s from that indie rock scene that some of Portland’s most endearing and original bands have emerged.
Brenda is one of those bands.
So let’s talk about how I discovered Brenda.
It’s two fold.
Initially it was because I kept hearing about Brenda. They formed after I left town and for a while, they had assumed the role of Portland Band Everyone is Talking About. Other bands to have assumed this role: Loverless, Graham Issacson, Phantom Buffalo, the Mallet Brothers Band among others. Then they kind of fell off the radar a bit. This happens. Nothing to be alarmed about until you see members popping up in other bands, which happens in a small musical community like Portland. Brenda had gotten some national love, though. I heard Wilco was a fan and they signed with an indie label, Teenarena Records. Teenarena has released Brenda’s latest album, Fix Your Eyes.
I’ll get into Fix Your Eyes in a paragraph or so. Please stand by.
But back to discovering Brenda.
So yes, I heard about them through people who talk about bands in Portland. There was both a lot of talk and a lot of people talking. Did some research on my own. Turns out a member of Brenda was Josh Loring. Josh and I grew up together. Back in high school we were in each other’s first band, the Ho Down Warriors. I now had a vested interest in Brenda. And it was this vested interest in Brenda that propelled me to really listen to them. When they were just one of those bands people are talking about, I gave them a quick listen, but their lo-fi indie style wasn’t really my thing. But when I learned that an old friend was the guitarist and vocalist, I listened again. Somehow it was now different.
Then I caught the video for their song “Girl Don’t Grow.”
Besides being a super catchy tune, it’s also a vocal tour through Portland. I love Portland. Brenda, tuggin’ at my heart strings. I was sold. I became a fan of Brenda.
Fast forward to this week and I’ve now listened to Fix Your Eyes five or six times. Five or six times I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s not the best album I’ve heard recently and it’s also certainly not the worst. It is a little uneven. I agree with The Bollard there. It’s an album as a science experiment and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, you can’t fault the scientists. At it’s best it’s whimsically-charged, sunshine pop- specifically a tune like “Boxy Music.” I’d punch myself in the face if I called parts of the album enchanting, but in reality, parts are- so maybe I will punch myself in the face. The album could be a soundtrack to a daydream and it sounds like an album constructed by habitual day dreamers.
That is meant to be a compliment.
If there is a knock on Brenda and an affront to the idea that they are a pop band, it’s that none of the songs on Fix Your Eyes are especially memorable and/or catchy. I don’t find myself singing, or more accurately humming, their songs after listening to them, which I feel is a trait indicative of good pop music. So maybe Brenda isn’t really pop after all. Pop-sensibilities might be more like it. Enough pop to keep your head swaying. That’s pop enough for most bands and pop enough for Brenda. Brenda seems too high brow to be considered just pop- hence the whole scientist thing.
Some bands write songs. I feel Brenda constructs songs.
With summer coming in hot, Fix Your Eyes arrives at a good time. The brightness of the album should serve beach goers, island hoppers and day trippers well. Music for sunglasses and music for road trips. If memory serves correct, the Ho Down Warriors had a song called Traveling Song (or something like that.) The reason for the title was because Josh’s guitar riff sounded like traveling music. His style hasn’t changed much. It’s still lyrical and full of movement. That coupled with Peet Chamberlain’s bright and vibrant organ playing makes the majority of Brenda’s song chalk full of life. I’m also a very big fan of DJ Moore’s inventive drumming. His use of cymbals would make inventors of cymbals smile.
So let’s talk about Brenda.
Let’s talk about Fix Your Eyes.
Let’s talk about music that makes you smile and open your arms wide.
Let’s talk about the past and let’s talk about the future.
Fix Your Eyes- for day dreamers, by day dreamers.
Band Photo: Matthew Robbins