I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (having just written about progressive metal band UNDER AEGIS) to shine my spotlight on Brave You, one of my favorite indie bands that I’ve also previously featured on this blog. In 2016 I reviewed their outstanding debut Six Songs EP, and now have the pleasure of reviewing their new full-length album Places, which dropped in late February. Released through Halloween Records, Places is a concept album. The band’s guitarist & lead vocalist Alex Meylink explains: “Places is entirely about addiction, but we tried to avoid ever mentioning drugs or alcohol. We focused primarily on how addiction interacts with one’s emotional state and relationships, so I think it’s applicable to anyone suffering a mental health issue. These are songs written across a few years: in the early stages of recovery, in relapse, at ‘the bottom’, and finally coming to a place of good mental health and sobriety.”
Brave You plays alternative rock that’s highly melodic, but with an honest, post-grunge sensibility that gives them a distinctive style all their own. In addition to Meylink, the other band members are Noah Snyder on bass & backing vocals, and Erik Burtraw on drums & backing vocals. Outstanding, complex guitar riffs, aggressive drums, and really fine harmonizing vocals are the defining elements of their sound. Add their solid songwriting to the mix, and the result are songs of exceptional quality and depth. And if all that isn’t enough of a winning combination, they’re also pretty nice guys.
Places is aptly named, as each track title is about a specific location, whether it be a geographical one or simply a bedroom. The album kicks off with a distorted riff and voice over of a guy inviting his friends to go to the amusement park on “Lake Michigan.” Swirling guitars, Snyder’s humming bass and Burtraw’s crashing drums ensue, as Meylink earnestly sings of being in a precarious mental state: “So I’m safe for now. Even if it’s just one moment I could crack a smile, goddamn it.” Determined to make it, he defiantly sings “So I’m safe for now. So let’s burn that fucker down and build it up from better ground.”
I may be off base, but my take on “The Hospital” is that it’s about being depressed over the impending onset of winter, which symbolizes the possibility of having a relapse that would necessitate going back into rehab. The lighthearted video puts a happy face on a rather serious subject, namely trying to stave off winter, or preventing a downward spiral and keeping an upbeat attitude by having fun playing sports with friends. By video’s end, the band members are all wearing giant teddy bear heads, indicating they’re getting ready to hibernate, another metaphor symbolizing the inevitability of returning to the hospital for rehab.
One of my favorite tracks is “Mound St.” It starts off with Meylink’s echoed vocals and a gentle riff and drumbeat, then explodes with a barrage of wailing guitars and thunderous drums. Still in a fragile mental state and feeling pessimistic, Meylink sings: “I’d spent a few years treading water in stagnant pools. You asked me where my head had wandered off to. I’ve been lost. / If these are the best days of our lives then we are fucked. I am fucked. / On Mound Street, I let my losses pile up. Refused to claim stake in the rubble and the sum of the stories I told you and to myself: that I’m alright and getting by. So I coasted on hope or the concept of having it. Got myself dry as a bone til mine were cracking, but I couldn’t help but sink into quicksand and pits. A morass of “faultless” debt I could never hope to pay back.”
“Wind Lake” and “King Cross” are a couplet, with the latter being a precise continuation of “Wind Lake.” It’s interesting the band would create a separate track in “Kings Cross,” as it begins with the exact same riff that “Wind Lake” ends with. Both tracks feature Meylink’s gritty, screaming guitars and Snyder’s deep, droning bass line, sounding fantastic.
The guys’ wonderful harmonizing is well represented on “Washington.” The nimble guitars and bouncy drumbeat lend an optimistic tone for lyrics that speak to a resignation that though things aren’t going so great, we’ll just continue acting like they are: “So let’s just make it through this winter. Toss off the sharp and jagged splinters. No matter, all of this is fine.”
“Hometown” speaks to the depression that began while growing up, and wanting to escape that environment in the hope things will get better: “Always remember how you felt at this moment, in this place. Alone and inconsolable in the house that you grew up in. You wanted to burn that fucker down. Erase twenty years on solid ground.” The track has a great melody, and is filled with loads of jangly guitars and gritty bass. “South Milwaukee” is a short and beautiful track with chiming guitars and warm bass, but sad lyrics about feeling hopeless and alone. Meylink sadly sings “Overworked and underfed, in need of rest, I drove the twenty minutes to South Milwaukee instead, to you and your shitty friend. Towards a beacon of light in an otherwise meaningless night. / Selfish, I expected too much of your company. That just one night could fix me. It didn’t help me at all.”
“Bedroom” finds him trying to escape his demons by isolating in a safe place: “Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to stay home, stay in my bedroom alone. Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to be whole.” As always, the frenetic instrumentals and vocal harmonies are first-rate.
The hard-driving, bittersweet “Your Bedroom” speaks to the pain and feelings of loss after the sudden death of a friend. “You’re no ghost, you’re a warmth. A ringing in the ears. A reminder. Stay in motion now. Make the movement matter. And this will freeze and crack, thawed only by the embers. You’re twenty seven forever. By the back door, your old pair of blue Tiger shoes we didn’t throw out, as if after a day or two like Lazarus you’d come from your room. We’d get a sandwich at Lulu’s. God, I’d do whatever you want to. I’d get clean. I’d sing loud. Just come on out.”
Places closes on an optimistic tone with the anthemic “Everywhere.” He’s now confident things will be OK: “I wanna take back this city from dead memories, take back my body. Call off the funeral procession for all these loves that built me. Those years searching for something greater than these homes. Well, I found it. Found it in my bones.” It’s a gorgeous track with layered guitars that start off as tender strums, gradually building to celebratory jangly riffs. Likewise, Meylink’s heartfelt vocals build along with the music, eventually soaring to a crescendo of spine-tingling harmonies. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant effort from a really fine band. I love Brave You and hope they continue making music for years to come.