Between death and rebirth, there is a liminal state known to the Tibetans as “Bardo.” …
One of the best parts about music is coming across pure, genuine energy in a project. It’s easy to leaf through groups and sounds that fit, more or less, into neatly arranged packages. What separates the compelling from the run-of-the-mill is the passion. Brakemouth, the one-man band of Casey Frantum, has energy and passion in droves, and his new, self-released album Marlene flies at you unrelentingly. Marlene’s ten tracks are packed to the gills with pumping drum beats, vibrant synth, and quality guitar hooks. Frantum is a capable musician with an ear for catchy rhythms and a mind for clever lyrics.
Searching out videos of his live shows, one is treated to an impassioned performer who looks as if he’s having a hell of a lot of fun onstage. On tracks like “Rhian” and “Wired,” Frantum is at his best. The backing beats are clean, and the instrumentation is tight. “Rhian” is deceptively introspective, lyrically, and Frantum exerts clear control over the ebb and flow of the track. “Wired” features a strong kick beat and a bouncy synthesizer hook that breeds an infectious energy from start to finish. One of my favorite parts of the album comes on “Built to Last,” toward the end, when Frantum steps back and unleashes a soaring guitar line that evokes some serious ‘80s rock nostalgia. He runs up the fretboard and lets the guitar line breathe on its own.
While Frantum is indeed a capable and talented musician (especially impressive are his guitar chops), the vocals throughout Marlene leave something to be desired. At their best, on the aforementioned “Rhian” and “Wires,” they offer a nice counterpoint to the busyness of the instrumentation. At other moments, however, they can be distractingly ragged—missed harmonies and weird doublings that don’t quite work. Take those statements with a grain of salt, though, and acknowledge that the record is self-produced. On the next go-round, when the vocal lines can be cleaned up a tad, Frantum will be left with delightfully upbeat and enjoyable synth pop.
Marlene is an enjoyable album, all things considered. It’s clear that Frantum knows what he’s doing, and that confidence should translate into some seriously fun music moving forward. Keep an eye on him as he continues to come up in the Portland scene! »
– Charles Trowbridge