Straight in the feels.
Ready for your heart to be torn to shreds (again)? Canadian singer-songwriter Braden Barrie – the prolific one-man-band behind SayWeCanFly – is back with another set of bruised lullabies.
‘Blessed Are Those’ is his second album on Epitaph, following a series of profile-building EPs filled with wide-eyed wonder and whimsy that made the best of his unavoidably limited
This time around though, the 21-year-old acoustic artist is broadening his horizons a touch. ‘There Are No Flowers In Heaven (Foreword)’ opens on a music box unwinding its gentle tune before mournful strings and piano flourishes usher in a booming, mantra-like and multi-layered vocal. Grandiosity and ambition lurk around every shadowy corner of this record, right down to the intriguing symbolism of its artwork. Even tonally, these songs aim high, with the dramatic title track tackling spiritual issues. Its refrain, “Blessed are those who know, that God is never coming back / He’s already let you go” echoes long after its last whispery utterance.
None of which is to say that Braden has abandoned the reliable bag of tricks that saw him welcomed to the alt. scene party in the first place. ‘I Didn’t Know’ bears the marks of classic romcom montage fare, set to melt all hearts and minds in its way. See also the melancholic brooding of ‘They’re Calling For Rain’. Tissues at the ready…
Then there are the campfire stylings of ‘The Space Between Our Eyes’, and the peppy ‘Left The Light On’. This one-two marks the midpoint of the record with largely unadorned vocals and acoustic guitar – just like old times – where the melody and the message are the stars of the song.
Either side of those two tracks though, the basics of a bedroom balladeer are mostly sidelined in favour of broad, bombastic strokes. Songs that may have remained acoustic strummers in a former life now explode with colour and sweeping, multi-instrumental accompaniments. The overall feel is of an artist reaching for something more than the sum of his former parts. Does it always work? Not when one cello-led tune tends to blend into another near the end, but the creative aspiration in its make-up is to be applauded. Not only is the former teen emo star growing up as a person, his songs and his vision are blossoming in tandem. For the most part, it’s a joy to take in.
If there’s a general criticism to be made, it’s that this kind of thing has been done many times before and the mere addition of strings and slow, serious-sounding songs does not an epic record make.
But there’s a boldness about Braden Barrie trying this on for size. Rather than settling for a life of making up the scene numbers, the young singer-songwriter is bravely stepping outside of his comfort zone; taking artistic risks, asking big life questions and maybe, just maybe, starting out on a path that could lead down even more rewarding avenues. To be continued…