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Wry as Poisoned Brandy – “The Chymical Wedding of Brooks Strause”

Brooks Strause
The Chymical Wedding of Brooks Strause
Cartouche

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OK here’s one we missed – it was released October 2015 – and for that we feel an exquisite remorse. But, as Brooks Strause himself would no doubt agree, one must process, make amends, and move on. And here we are.

Mr Strause, from Muscatine, Iowa, has been playing music since the day he became a teenager. He’s been in several bands (Septic, The Heart Attacks, couple others), participated in Daytrotter’s Barnstormer 2 tour, opened for the likes of Greg Brown, Kurt Vile, Mac DeMarco and too many others to count, is the author of six previous solo albums and has gained along the way something of that coveted status, the songwriter’s songwriter, AKA a bit of a cult hero. As his métier is to take the seasoned if slightly jaded perspective of an ancient suburban mystic with which he’s endowed and subject it to the succinctly expansive structures inherent to the singer-songwriter canon, this is no surprise.

On every album heretofore Strause has self-produced but seeing as The Chymical Wedding of Brooks Strause is a post-breakup album (originally written back in 2012, the intervening gestation/recovery period visited by game explorations into tarot, magick, et al), the singer came to understand, as do most of us facing such a circumstance, that he could use a little help. Fortunately for Brooks – and us – the services of The Multiple Cat‘s head cat and Daytrotter co-founder Patrick Stolley were available just down the road, and so the guy laid down his vocals, laid down his guitar tracks and left it to Stolley to enlist a handful of local stalwarts and flesh the thing out. This turned out to be a marvelous idea.

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[photo: Cartouche Records]

Listening to the Jad Fair-pretends-he’s-in-the-Beatles opener “Good World,” evincing a sort of melancholic whimsy, listening to “Bridge Over Nowhere”‘s existential rock-a-boogie that pictures Carl Perkins covering Sartre, to the way “Too Beautiful” steeps itself in something of a drugged waltz to get across a sentiment akin to the heaviest Valentine’s Day card ever (“you’re too beautiful for this ugly world“) or how “Undead Ends” plays like echoes in the shadows of an early 60’s teen tragedy ballad to explore the notion of love’s dubious claim of mortality defied, is to hear the patchwork quilt of American popular music (quirky Midwest version) being stitched together before your ears. As if it needed further proving, The Chymical Wedding of..makes clear again that Strause and Stolley have a full command of the pop palette.

The aching “Love Me There” captures with a bare-bones luminosity that out-prettifies M.Ward and that’s sayin’ something, “Anymore” buries your heart with pathos and an eerie toy piano intro, “Hearts” gives you Johnny Cash straight after hearing Colossal Youth, guest Jeff Jackson’s pecking electric, in a nice bit of synchronicity, reminding inescapably of his surname’s namesake single, while “Hesitation and Haste” is an Iowan’s popsike take on the solo Lennon template circa “Working Class Hero” though instead of a droll cyni-sarcasm the lyrics, one is quick to mention, reflect a more abstract emotionalized poeticism as is true record-wide. Meriting perhaps the greatest attention is “The Creeping Heart,” a (ahem) creeping, somnambulant but utterly riveting tour de force whose deceptively downtempo/uptempo trellis-climbing structure and lyrics as merciless as they are vulnerable (“Give a ghost an inch and you’re fucked fucked fucked / with your hair all a mess and your shirt untucked“) give Strause his very own “Beyond Belief,” a swirling troubled classic sure to follow him to his grave. Beautiful, dark, and wry as poisoned brandy, it’s the maypole track around which the others dance and is stingingly representative of this guy’s immutable talent.