Originally Published at The Blue Indian on August 22, 2010.
The album art says it all, the rest is but commentary.
Maybe it’s judgmental or simplistic to evaluate a book by its cover, or in this case an album, but Brad Laner’s new, self-produced solo effort, Natural Selections, communicates with sonic fuzz and feedback the same furrowed brow of its cover boy.
An industry vet, Laner continues to explore and experiment. With a child-like resourcefulness he samples and overdubs, picking up drum sounds and textures like walking-stick scepters from the side of the road. The trail he winds up blazing is but the result of his self-described exercise of translating his dreams into reality. The record communicates this pastiche: restless but adventurous; raucous but somehow softened and tamed by a familial presence. Its vocabulary is fluently avante, and evokes the scheming knob-twiddling innovation such as Brian Eno, or current clamorous fellow journeymen like Animal Collective.
The first three tracks robustly break in, starting this wandering trek. The stand-out opener, Eyes Close, transports us into Laner’s twisted nocturne where we are simultaneously lulled with picked guitar loops and harmonious vocals and woken by rousing percussion. Throat continues the disorienting momentum with an undomesticated Death Cab-rhythm, and a synth-laden bridge. The final part of this trilogy, features the tortured Lancaster, asking for an admission of sorrow, but mostly just begging for some understanding.
Crawl Back In hints at Of Montreal’s swagger while Why Did I Do It and Dirty Bugs each display moments of grandiosity and sheer brilliance found nowhere else on the album. With all the wizened adroitness Laner holds up behind the façade of youthful whimsy, there are moments of weakness. Perhaps against his better judgment, the impromptu pre-school jam session throwaway, Vicky, misses much more than it hits in the nine-slot. I suggest it is a sloppy moment of sentimental weakness in an otherwise strong and whole piece. It reminds us that grown men are as likely to veer from the cut path as any undisciplined youth.
Overall, Laner’s wanderings remain engrossing and surprising all the way through. Natural Selections delivers as an able companion to the complicated but capricious cover it explicates.