5 Track, LP (2011, One Louder/Universal)
The trouble with a single as mind-blowing as ‘Streamers’ is that it overshadows the songs around it. So while Sophia Brous’s debut EP with her eponymous act (pronounced “Bruce”) is decidedly a stunner, it settles into a comedown after the dizzy heights of its opener. If ‘Streamers’ is this high-minded outing’s equivalent of a party song, the following tracks are left to survey the smouldering embers of the morning after.
So: ‘Streamers’. From the tricky acceleration of its first minute to its eventual Komeda-via-Valley of the Dolls creepiness, it’s a miracle of structure steeped in retro soundtrack fetishism. It’s pop with jazz chops, and it lets Brous wrap herself around it like a luxurious fur. Here and on other songs, the music is so busy that it’s easy to miss how accomplished Brous is as a lyricist too, dispensing dreamy turns of phrases (“Lift me up with your fumes and your powers”) with exquisite poise.
It’s not just Sophia Brous who shines, but co-producer Scott Horscroft and Brous’ crack band: James Rushford (Golden Fur) and Alexander Garsden (a multi-disciplinary sound artist), co-producer Shags Chamberlain (Pikelet) and percussionist Joe Talia (Ned Collette). As for Brous, as both a star jazz student and subsequently director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, her CV is already sterling. But here she proves surprisingly loose, up for taking playful little chances whenever she can.
The EP’s 20 minutes move quickly, with far too many details to absorb in any one pass. ‘Little Ticket’ extends the retro touches to a microphone crackle as Brous’s vocals hit their stride, while ‘Way Up on the River’ confirms her interest in exploring dark lyrics over classy-made-lurid backgrounds. Her swinging voice is ideal for bumpy rhythms, but she also does well with the moody simmer of ‘Silver Chain’. Very much of a piece with the rest, the closing ‘Oh My Brother’ is somehow at once restrained and over-the-top, lending a sinister, knowing edge to its ripe romance.
This makes a perfect bookend to the Jane Badler/Sir album of earlier in the year. Like Badler, Brous can exude a man-eater quality that’s part kitschy and part ominous. Both singers fit beautifully into the burlesque swirl of their musical backing, nailing the emotional cues while acting as both leader and instrument.
by Doug Wallen