The Heavy Circles’ “The Heavy Circles”

Feb 13, 2008 4:22pm

It’s not often that you get a duo made up of a stepmother and a stepson, but then again, not every stepmother is Edie Brickell and not every stepson is Harper Simon.  Brickell’s husband and Harper’s father is Paul Simon, so expectations should be rather high.  To date, this probably Harper Simon’s most high-profile gig, other than appearing alongside his friend Sean Lennon on the DVD which accompanied Lennon’s excellent 2006 album “Friendly Fire.”  Brickell, on the other hand, after the massive success and fade of her band the New Bohemians, has long been due a career-resurgence.  After briefly putting the New Bohemians back together in 2006, to surprisingly little attention, this project is just what she needs.  It helps to have cool friends and Brickell and Simon have put together a roster impressive enough to make any jaded hipster smile.  Sean Lennon, Martha Wainwright, the Bird and the Bee’s Inara George, Beastie Boys’ keyboardist Money Mark, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda (separately) and Michael Penn-associate Patrick Warren all make appearances throughout the record.  To top it off, they have producer Bryce Goggin to work with, who has been behind the boards for cool albums like the Lemonheads’ “Car Button Cloth,” The Poster Children’s “RTFM,” and the Amps’ “Pacer” among others.  Indeed this album lives up to how cool it looks on paper.  It may very well be Brickell’s best work since her 1989 debut on “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars.”  It’s doubtful any of these tracks will get the mainstream attention or have the cultural significance of “What I Am,” but never the less, this album plays up her strengths better than the majority of her nineties/solo output.  It’s great news.  From the onset, it is clear that this is something special as you hear the ethereal opening track “Henri.”  As mentioned before, the track features Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda on keys, and one can’t help imagine how the song would sound if sung with her band-mate Miho Hatori singing along.  It is a slick slice of echo-laden woozy blues.  It also sounds like a lost movie theme to an art-house road-movie.   Most definitely, this is a top-shelf cut.  “Better” enters next, playing up Brickell’s sassier side with a pounding piano line recalling the more upbeat moments of Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine,” (most notably, her song “Better Version of Me.”)  It’s the best, catchiest attempt at a pop single Brickell has recorded in years.  It’s easy to forget what a force Brickell is when she gets faster material.  “Ready To Play” would also make a nice triple-A radio single with its mid-tempo almost roadhouse-like groove.  Simon shows his skill as a guitarist during the song’s extended solos.    Things slow down a little for “Confused.”  Brickell seems revitalized even with slower numbers like this.  It comes off like an elegant moment of late-night reflection. Similarly, the chilled last-call vibe of “Easier” is also fitting.  Here, Lennon plays bass and Martha Wainwright’s background vocals fit perfectly behind Brickell’s.  They both have very distinct, high, honey-soaked, sweet voices and they merge together quite well.  “Maximo” goes from being ominous, to being sunny, to being ominous again.  There’s something marvelous about its seamless rhythm and mood shifts.  In a mere three minutes it gives a wide spectrum with a rather straight-forward structure.  There seems to be a tension throughout that comes to a head after each chorus when Simon’s guitar gives off an almost dissonant tone.  It’s an excellent compositional move and it creates a nice transitional spot. “Wait & Wait” might also be another good possibility for a single.  Again, drenched in mood-setting echo, Brickell sounds nicely chilled.  One can imagine this song in a more stripped down, acoustic mode, but all the effects enhance the overall feeling. “Need a Friend” is some lightly tweaked soft-ska, whereas “Dynamite Child” is a standout dose of in-your-face, bluesy garage-rock.  The latter is down-right amazing.  No wonder “Dynamite Child” also serves as the name of the band’s label.  It needs such a monument, especially considering that it delivers in 1 minute and 45 seconds what many bands can’t deliver in 4 minutes. Finally the album closes with the enjoyable, occasionally soaring, occasionally rocking “Oh Darling.”
The Heavy Circles is a rebirth for Brickell.  She should’ve been making records like this for the last fifteen years.  Harper Simon also shows that he is one excellent guitarist. No doubt Paul is proud of both of them.   Let’s hope this is just the beginning of something and not just a one-off project.  I want to hear more.

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