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Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011

Brief Candles' Long-Awaited Follow-Up

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Brief Candles singer Kevin Dixon opens the song "Skylark" on the band's new Fractured Days LP with an admission. "I spent way too long to write this song," he sings, "I didn't know how long it'd take." For anybody who has followed the Milwaukee shoegaze band, the lyrics stand out for a couple of reasons. First, they work as commentary on the band's unhurried creative process, since Fractured Days follows the band's last album, They Live We Sleep, by a full five years. And second, they're decipherable—a clear break from the muffled, barely audible vocals of the band's first records.

"This time around, we tried to be a little more conscious of making some space for vocals, because we had never really done that before," explains Jenifer Boniger, who shares vocal and guitar duties in the band with Dixon, her husband. Both were reluctant singers. They inherited vocal responsibilities after the original singer from an earlier incarnation of the band left the group, and the two treat them like any other instrument—as just another source of melody, placing no particular emphasis on the words.

"People would listen to our last record and always say, 'Wow, the vocals are so buried,' though they never really seemed that way to us," Boniger says. "To me, they seemed loud, especially compared to how they come across live. I don't think you can hear what I'm saying at a live show. Actually, you're lucky if you can hear the vocal melody when we play live."

The band's new emphasis on vocals gives Fractured Days a different feel from They Live We Sleep, as does the album's more diverse production. Where the quartet self-produced their last record, this one was mixed by a trio of outside hands: Adam Pierce of Mice Parade; Gospel Gossip producer Neil Weir; and Kurt Vile/The War on Drugs producer Jeff Zeigler.

"We wanted a fifth party outside the band to help us color our sound, somebody who was like-minded but would help steer the project, and we decided on Adam Pierce," Boniger explains. "We had finished four songs with him and we were going to come back in a couple months to finish the rest when we learned that he was about to go on tour for, like, six months, so we needed somebody else to mix the other tracks. Then we decided that we might as well use a couple of people to mix the rest of them, since the album was already going to be disjointed. It was fun to see what everybody did with our tracks, and which sounds each of them focused in on while they were mixing their tracks."

The result is a far more varied album than They Live, and one less beholden to a conventional shoegaze aesthetic. With its unifying hazy production, They Live played like a long, continuous daydream. On Fractured Days, however, each song is a distinct break from the last—there are higher peaks and lower valleys, and now that there are lyrics to cling to, the overall feel is poppier. Though the band nods more than ever to the tuneful sludge of Bug-era Dinosaur Jr. and the sweet, surging guitar-pop of classic Slumberland Records releases, they've shaken off most of the My Bloody Valentine comparisons. Considering its five-year gestation, Fractured Days represents a triumph of patience.

"It seems like a lot of newer bands will put out an album, then a digital single, and then another one and so on, but it's like a lot of them are just trying to keep their name out there," Boniger posits. "Their albums will be two good songs and a lot of filler. That approach seems questionable to me, so we just take the time we need to make the albums we want to make. I'm not going to lie, though: I do wish we could work faster sometimes."

Brief Candles play an album release show 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Cactus Club with Gospel Gossip, King's Horses and 28 Degrees Taurus.