A Defeat Of Echoes - Donovan's Brain (Career Records)
"Come To My Party," intones Colter Langan on the severe and opening cut of the same name on the latest opus for Montana psychedelic collective Donovan's Brain and, although wrist-slashing is optional, he sure ain't breaking out the fairy bread and streamers.
This isn't exactly a happy album for most of the ride - three of the members were apparently undergoing breakdowns or break-ups throughout its making - but it's strangely uplifting in the long run. It might be one of the most engaging listens you'll have in a long time.
Engaging and demanding. Donovan's Brain makes multi-faceted, complex music for grown-ups that requires close listening. Even the instrumental pieces that divide the disc into distinct "suites" avoid being throwaways. This value-packed, 17-song disc includes a companion DVD - more on that later - but don't bank on "Control" making it to MTV or "Saturday Morning Hits" real soon. Donovan's Brain ignore marketing demographics (and just about every other boundary of genre, for that matter).
Donovan's Brain sure gets around - from languid minor chord narratives to crunching rockers in the space of a couple of tracks. In doing so, they call to mind more (early) Pink Floyd and Stones influences than you can comfortably point a stick at. From baroque to the Byrds, but amazingly coherent, and the odd bout of trippiness never gets in the way of the tunes.
With the exception of drummer Ron Craighead, the core members of Donovan's Brain (Ron Sanchez, Colter Langan and Jeff Arntsen) are multi-instrumentalists, but this is the first album that they've recorded wholly as a band unit. Ron Sanchez is the glue, rounding up (and, good natured guy that he is, probably rounding on) his bandmates and playing guitar, keyboards and synth. Jeff Arntsen (bass, lap steel and organ) and Ron Craighead (drums) form a pliable rhythm section, and Colter Langan plays six strings or four. Being a collective, that still leaves room for guest players and they all make substantial contributions.
Deniz Tek adds fluid and forceful guitar to four tracks (listen for the scuzzy backing on "Decade of Days", slide and acoustic on the sweeping instro "Bondi Tombstones" and a memorable solo on the superb Colter Langan piece "Too Far Gone"). Bobby Sutcliff adds his guitar and vocals to the assured rocker "City Morning" with its beach Boys outro. Megan Pickerel's voice leavens "The Boy Who Cried New Town" and longtime Brain member Richard Treece sprinkles guitar over the out-there "Penny For Your Thoughts" with a degree of magnificence.
The star, for me, is the aforementioned "So Far Gone", a swelling Colter Langan tune that would be all over the airwaves in a fair and just world.
Oh, and that bonus DVD...in a world where we want more for our heard-earned (and we want it now), this is superb value. The stark, black-and-white splendour of the Brain's "Control" sits well alongside a trio of stylish and engaging clips from labelmate Penny Ikinger's stunning "Electra" album. This is a visual entree to one of the best sounding discs on the Career label, and Penny's videos round make for a neat pairing as the Brain backed Ms Ikinger on her 2004 US tour.
It's the rockers on "A Defeat of Echoes" that (naturally) grabbed my attention - but it's the more meandering and/or atmospheric songs that keep me going back to soak up more.