Album Review: Brazos, Saltwater

Brazos’ Phosphorescent Blues came out amidst the 2009 explosion of indie-infused folk that was led by now sensationalized Mumford and Suns and, perhaps to a lesser degree, Tallest Man on Earth, Elvis Perkins and those likes. In that wave, Brazos released its debut album Phosphorescent Blues as a perfect addition to any 2009 indie-folk playlist with tracks like “Day Glo” seamlessly in the thread. Then, Brazos was the folk moniker of Austin’s Martin McNulty Crane. Now, Brazos is the band name for Brooklyn trio who released Saltwater May 28 on Dead Oceans. Still, Brazos fits perfectly into the day’s trending music.

The band seems all too ready to be influenced by its change in location. In Austin in the time of indie-folk, Brazos played that role. In New York and in the time of more pop-infused music that is shying away, but not ignoring folk roots, Brazos has found itself again seamlessly fitting into the trends. Saltwater has given us a collection of tracks to choose from to add to today’s indie playlist and, while it might not be the most comprehensive album to date, is successful in its intention.

Rather than retaining its quiet folklore, Brazos has reintroduced itself as a more upbeat, electronic and pop group now reminiscent of the new trends of artists like Villagers. The album adds an electronic, pop vibe to the band, and it’s that developed pop sensibility that’s the most impressive aspect of the album.  In that, it attempts to add a complexity to Brazos’ music that’s definitely appreciated and certainly successful on a track to track basis.

One of the most winning tracks on the album is “Charm,” where the staccato rhythms and intricate complementing guitar eliminate any doubt of Brazos’ credentials.  The song both pays homage to the folk Brazos of Phosphorescent Blues and works to bridge the gap to the more pop and intentionally complex Brazos. On the other side of the spectrum, title track “Saltwater” presents a stripped away percussion coupled with a purely electric guitar and pensive and barely moving vocals that somehow, in each part’s solitary personality, create one of the album’s best songs. It’s only appropriate that this song is so touching because, in his explanation of each song on the album, Crane admitted that “Saltwater,” and thus Saltwater is a tribute to “a friend who decided to die.” And for that reason (but not that reason alone) Saltwater is certainly an album worth your time.