Big Strong Brute
Avalanche Of Truth
9 Track, LP (2012, Lofly/El Nino El Nino))
Related: Big Strong Brute.
It’s hard to ignore the first line of the album. Over a bit of guitar jingle-jangle Paul Donoughue aka Big Strong Brute sings, “Here’s my opportunity to get even.” And when I hear it, I immediately think it’s a trick. There’s no menace to it at all, no gothic wrath, nothing like that. And the more I listen to Avalanche of Truth, the more I think it isn’t scores and wrongs getting evened up. I think it’s more the case that this is about Donoughue getting a different type of even. I think it’s about balance, as in those things almost no one ever writes alt-country songs about: learning from experience, moving on and getting happy. It all starts off meekly enough but by the end of Side A, you know what you’re dealing with; the pianos, horns and amateur choirs, the double-tracked vocals, a fairly sunny, urbane take on folk and country carried by a songwriter who is paying careful, writerly attention to structure and pacing.
A lot of the songs take a few bars to reveal themselves, they build up. They’re not obvious. ‘Poor Memories’ works through its initial night-sky melancholy to the realisation that, “The cruel and the kind/Fell hand in hand/Watched them no longer defined”. ‘Small Town’, in particular, sounds like fluff until each new chorus and verse digs a little deeper. And the avalanche of truths from the title? There’s a few lessons learned here for sure, but the one that seems to echo from one song to the next is that place counts for very little in the whole scheme of things. In a country where we seem hell-bent on emphasising the differences between our places - north and south, east coast and west, first and second tier - Donoughue sings about friends and dreams once thought lost to distance but - like anyone who’s ever travelled knows - one town or city is much like the other. You don’t lose your friends and dreams to distance, you lose that stuff to yourself. And in the title track he sings as much, seeing “a face on my window” that “calls to me, again, to please explain what I don’t know”.
Throughout all this, the studio production backs him up well. The reverb is cavernous when the lyrics call for it, direct and close when Donoughue is direct and close. His voice is never dollied up. He gets a little flat here and there, a bit nasally here and there, you can hear the spit in his mouth. And it’s all the better for it. This isn’t a record about perfect ideas and processes. It’s not pained or emotional or striving for purity. The whole thing is a little like the painting on the cover. It’s rough, left open and unfinished. Yet, it’s a good portrait. It tells you something about someone and, very subtly, makes you think occasionally about the person listening in.
by Ian Rogers