The Brook & The Bluff is an evocative name; perhaps you’d expect it to be the name of an album rather than a band, but it’s evocative all the same. It not only suggests natural splendor, but a pastoral, old-fashioned vision of that splendor, the kind you might see in a storybook illustration. Coupled with the band’s Southern roots, I was interested to see what kind of sounds a group with that name to explore. I don’t know what I expected The Brook & The Bluff to sound like–Fleet Foxes? A slightly more florid Bon Iver?–but what I wound up with was a fairly standard indie-pop group whose songs could comfortably soundtrack car commercials.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it isn’t. “Car commercial rock” has long since stopped being a useful pejorative now that everyone from Nick Drake to Stereolab has ended up in one. Besides, even the least creative indie-pop group can provide charm and catchy hooks, and BATB is far from uncreative. On their recent single “Pastels”, they demonstrate an ear for texture and melody while proving that they’re more ambitious than they may seem at first
“Pastels” by the Brook & The Bluff
“Pastels” consists of two halves, bridged together with a swirl of feedback, and both of them are worth your time. The first half starts with a light, friendly-sounding guitar groove, its pep tempered by its relaxed, jazzy tone; in that way, it’s reminiscent of The Sea and Cake. From there, it builds to familiar indie territory, with backing vocals and the churn of a distorted guitar building to a climax just after the two minute mark. You’ve heard something like it before, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying when a dreamy chord unfolds and we reach what seems like a strong ending.
But as I mentioned up above, it doesn’t end there. After the feedback leads us away from the first half, an even, heartbeat-like drum kicks in, and things briefly threaten to get tense before relaxing once again. BATB settle into an amiable bluesy sway for “Pastels”’ second half; the highlight remains Alec Bolton’s guitar, which dips into darker colors without ever losing touch with the inherent prettiness of its tone.
“Pastels” is a decent song which could have been something more. While it’s commendable that BATB is willing to stray from a typical verse-chorus structure, the two halves don’t feel distinct enough from each other, either musically or tonally. If the song started bright before letting clouds creep in, or vice versa, there may have been some interesting evolution to
explore. As it stands, they feel like two different song fragments stitched together; stitched with skill, certainly, but the seams show all the same.
Despite this, there’s still plenty to recommend in “Pastels”. We can talk about song structures and genre conventions, but at the end of the day you can get a lot done with a tasty guitar tone. Like the simple pleasures of a brook or a bluff, sometimes that’s really all you need.