Indie-rockers Brighton MA have come into their own through refining their signature bursting emotionality with concise song structures and expansive dynamics on their sophomore album, Oh Lost. In an era of hyper stimulation, the arresting clarity of the Chicago-based quintet’s latest reminds us to not lose sight of the simple beauty of life.
On the lead track “Touch”—which the band is readying a video for—singer-songwriter Matt Kerstein recalls how in youth we’re more emotionally available and attuned to the wonder of life. He sings with tender weariness: “Kids like us trying to live off the Touch.” Kerstein notes: “Everyone related and felt those lyrics so they could just focus on the music around the words.” Besides being a conceptual touchstone, the track marked an aesthetic one as Brighton MA hit upon a punchier approach to song arrangement. “That was a turning point because of its general simplicity. It was one of the first tunes in a fresh batch after the last album. It developed quickly and we kept it simple with driving immediacy.”
Producer Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse) tracked Oh Lost in Chicago at Engine Studios. His sensitivity to Brighton MA’s endearingly scruffy hooks and romantic volatility helped him embolden the band’s approach with adventurous textures and concise arrangements. “He came to rehearsals with a scalpel and he spearheaded a lot of experimentation,” singer Matt Kerstein says, summing up Deck’s contributions.
The band also benefitted from the first-time opportunity of having an uninterrupted month-long block to record. This chance at sustained creativity allowed the band the freedom to see new ideas through and be more detail oriented with performances and dynamics. In addition to the luxury of non-rushed studio time, Brighton MA also benefited from finding a wellspring of inspiration with the addition of fresh blood. Singer-songwriter Kerstein and Brighton MA drummer Sam Koentopp were in Scotland Yard Gospel Choir together and, along with arranger/guitarist Jim Tuerk, have been the foundation of Brighton MA since 2006. In 2007 the trio welcomed into the fold guitarist Joe Darnaby, and bassist Jon Ozaksut.
The critically-acclaimed indie-rock quintet has been applauded for its innate lysergic folkie, noise-pop aesthetic and bold vulnerability, garnering favorable comparison to The Walkmen, The Flaming Lips, and Bob Dylan. Brighton MA has shared the stages with Spoon, The Arcade Fire, Old 97’s, Elvis Perkins, and Mason Jennings. The group has had songs licensed by the TV shows “Gossip Girl,” “Community,” “Castle,” ‘Ghost Whisperer,” and “One Tree Hill.” Most recently, their signature tune, “Good Kind of Crazy” (featured on Oh Lost), was licensed by Jack Daniels for an international television and web campaign scheduled to air through 2012.
The standout track “Bulletproof” is a coming of age song devoid of static sentimentality—the pining humility of Kerstein’s vocal, washes of big ringing guitars, and the rippling cathartic guitar hooks, lends it a stirring “in the now” insistency. The track’s pent up emotionality is poetically mirrored in the opening lyrics: “We weren’t built to last we were built to explode/Watch all of our pieces learn to let go/Gently float down towards the chaos below/ Hit the ground and just roll.” “‘Bulletproof’ was a telling moment for the band. I had it as a folk song, and you can kind of hear that,” Kerstein says of the crisp strumming and his plaintively sincere vocal approach on the verses. “But when those raucous electric guitars kick in, that’s the sound of Brighton MA playing on a track.”
The album closes with the haunting “Wake The Dead.” The track has poise and power, lush with harmonies and majestic backup vocals, waves-crashing guitars, shimmering keyboards, and beautifully weary lead guitar filigree. The winsomely optimistic feel of the track seems to sum up Oh Lost. “I think the tunes on this new album focus on keeping the spark going while fighting off over saturation. You tend to forget the excitement and amazingness of life in process of the day to day. But when you stop and look up, you remember that spark.”