Friday, August 2, 2013
Psychic Lines - Everything Keeps Getting Brighter - self released full length LP
There’s something exceptional about listening to a solo project from an individual with complete control of his process. On Everything Keeps Getting Brighter, Phil Glauberzon of Psychic Lines plays most of the instruments on the record including the piano, which seems to be the muse for every track. I ended up one night in a basement bar in Manhattan listening to Phil play tracks from this album on an out of tune piano. There’s nothing better than imperfect instruments or recordings to force a song down to its most important elements. Only the most concrete songwriting can stand up to that kind of stripped down performance and the polished, orchestral production is free to go baroque thanks to this solid foundation.
The tone of Everything Keeps Getting Brighter is something of a mix between Stephin Merritt’s deadpan baritone with the operatic arrangements of The Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat. There’s even a similar quirky narrative style in the opening track, "Ritual Mask" which abstractly explores themes of privacy and an emotionless future in his mid range doubled vocal. It’s in the juxtaposition of poppy rhythms against his dark lyric that reminds me of The Magnetic Fields. He fittingly uses autotune as a nod to the hyper mechanical process in this apocalypse, but his melody is always grounded enough to carry these tracks minus the lush accompaniment. You’ll find yourself singing along lyrics of a depressing scene, but won’t be able to help it.
I remember "Population surge" specifically from the bar back room with it’s rolling ocean waltz rhythm and here he’s added a slight acoustic layer beneath the piano along with a percussion track that has a surf, '60s feel with huge reverb hits. If you want blinding melancholy, this is it. A remote, lonesome pop grappling with how this character ended up with everything he never wanted.
The B-Side opens with “Chairman of the Board” a considerate track about the pressure of corporate responsibility from the perspective of this misunderstood character. It’s delivered in a floating, dreamy vocal with slow acoustic fingerpicking and delicate piano strikes. You would never imagine this kind of protagonist to have an inner monologue like this but that’s the key to Psychic Lines storytelling, expecting the unexpected. Phil doesn’t seem to ever use a traditional verse/chorus structure and ignores any obvious rhyming end lines. The tracks are foremost in service of his original, off kilter short stories, which are intensely labored over finding the balance of sharp melody and perverse lyric. Like in “Otaku” which is about finding true love with a robot prostitute – a subject that doesn’t sound like it would be possible to take seriously.
“Factory Settings” is stripped down to the vocal and a mic’d piano catching every nuance of his playing, an insight to his laser focus on the instrument always in service of a decisive melody. He’s clearly a talented songwriter and arranger of his idiosyncratic cabaret. “Let’s Get Dystopian” showcases the extent of his arrangement, joined by backup female vocals in a measured almost jazzy musical style, including a cello from Anna Callner with a lyric about a very specific operation in a sci-fi future to keep everyone artificially happy – never a good idea.
The two telephones on the sleeve of Everything Keeps Getting Brighter are another layer of his irony, a graphic warning sign against failed communication that the album enjoyably works at exploring in Phil’s unique pop style of theatrical narrative and solid, complex songwriting.
Pick up this full length LP from Phil at his bandcamp page.