Brave Baby: Forty Bells
Singing and writing about nostalgia is a tricky endeavor for any band. How do you make the past seem fresh? How do you manage to look at the past with any sort of intriguing insight? And, probably most importantly, how do you do it without sounding trite? So when I realized that Forty Bells, Brave Baby’s unequivocally triumphant debut, deals largely with the past ‒ be it the innocence of childhood, the first pangs of love, or any other formative past experience ‒ I had a right to feel slightly apprehensive. Yet these South Carolina-based indie rockers handle the material with a sense of immediacy that, although it may seem counterintuitive, is just what music about the past requires. There are no throwaway songs here and, furthermore, each song serves to expand the album’s meaning and urgency. Together, it makes for an extremely well conceived and executed debut.
In the span of a few minutes, the album’s opener, “Magic and Fire,” gives the listener quite a few things to chew on. With a post-rock flare, a barrage of guitar immediately hooks you. It evolves as it goes into a fairly rich, emotional piece that serves as an appropriate starting point for the album’s ensuing direction. “Nothing in Return,” arguably the highlight of the entire album, is a fairly traditional rock song that is elevated by singer Keon Masters’s Win Butler-like vocal acrobatics. For his ability to infuse drama and personality into the proceedings, Masters adds depth to everything the album attempts to say. Even songs like “Grandad,” which is ‒ you guessed it ‒ about the memories of one of the band member’s grandfathers, manages to still be treated with care. Although the lyrics get bogged down in sentimentality occasionally, Masters’s very sincere belting of the song gives it that special immediacy that makes the band’s commentary on the past seem so urgent on Forty Bells. Beyond that, there’s a sense of place in these songs. A slight country twang here and there gives the album a Southern flavor that isn’t dominant, but still undeniably present. Another instance of Brave Baby taking a fairly simple concept and elevating it through gorgeous production is “Foxes and Dogs,” a wonderful example of this band’s ability to continually surprise.
These are experienced musicians who’ve been on the indie scene in South Carolina for a few years now. Yet, as a unit, this is a debut, so the utter dearth of missteps is pretty stunning. Forty Bells is pure indie rock, wrought with emotion and passion. It may be nothing revolutionary or highly experimental, but it’s music of feeling that is utterly satisfying.
MP3: Brave Baby “Nothing in Return”