Bryan Deister - Spines of the Heart
Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the United States’ best and best-known institutions for music seems to disagree with Bryan Deister. In his bio, he says “English was my bane and burden.” With a Writing and Composition Scholarship from Berklee as well as a number one ranking on ReverbNation for his new double album Spines of the Heart, hopefully Deister will be less dismissive of his writing skills in future. Released a little over a month ago, Spines of the Heart is seeing rave reviews and accolades all over the place, yet Deister simply wants to keep his scholarship in good stead.
The thoughtful, mathematically almost perfect electronic compositions on Deister’s second album belie the uncertainty Deister seemingly faces in his work. That is, of course, until the vocals begin. With a soft timbre, mostly of the operatic falsetto persuasion, Deister introduces tension, uncertainty and passion both sonically and lyrically with his vocals. This interplay between celestial-sounding music, rock beats and highly emotional vocals creates a piece of work in Spines of the Heart unlike few seen before or currently.
Naming influences such as Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley and Bjork, Deister set off on this new project as a huge departure from his first album, Bathroom Revelations. That work was very pop-tinged and the writing wasn’t nearly as complex or subtle as is seen in Spines of the Heart. In this new opus, the electronic merges with analog by way of Moogs and sophisticated pitching programs. Classical mixes with modern by way of an orchestral composition style and rock sensibilities. It seems, at least for now, that Deister has found his stride songwriting-wise.
The double album opens with two of its major highlights. “All that I Have” introduces audiences to Deister’s compositional aptitude and dexterity with vacuum synths. The music starts off minimal, with a high pitched melody to match Deister’s wispy vocals. It is not long, however, before the bass elements come into play, courtesy of the Moog. A feedback-driven counter-melody drives the song forward while Deister’s haunting lyrics about the pain of giving never go above a whisper. The effect is a haunting electro-rock song which rivals Radiohead circa In Rainbows.
Track two, “Responding Well” has a more heavily syncopated beat than “All that I Have”, but still stays firmly in rock where that is concerned. Here, extraordinarily, Deister’s vocals break free of the operatic whisper and crescendo with the rest of the song. Passion is unleashed from Deister himself as well as from the music, showing him as a real rock contender. His vocal timbre goes from Yorke and Buckley to the likes of Jeremy Enigk from Sunny Day Real Estate. Punk-rock passion with classical composition; and Deister thinks he has no writing chops?
If you’re looking for passion, “Have You” is another track among the 22 on this massive album which again shows Deister’s rock passion. More of a lullaby musically, “Have You” has a simple melody which allows him to explore different tones and timbres with the vocals. Some of the synths follow this vocal journey, but the base track never waivers. Further down the tracklist, “Emily” once again uses the vacuum synth to its highest purpose as Deister taps into his inner Tangerine Dream. Much more experimental electronica than rock or EDM, only the vocals show how much love he has for rock.
The double album ends with the 13-minute “Apart of Me”, another very minimalist piece which shows the full range of Deister’s falsetto in the beginning. The desire to live life freely yet the pain that can be associated with that is clearly evident in both tone and lyrics as this track caps off Spines of the Heart. The track then breaks into an epic classical-style crescendo, featuring every kind of sound one can imagine: rock guitars, electronic organs arranged classically, and a heavy rock beat. The track toggles back and forth between the minimal and the maximal musical parts, and it becomes a rather surprising end to the album. With the music and vocals so tightly contained and measured for most of the tracks, it is unsure what is Deister’s impetus for this epic-within-an-epic, almost 13-minute song that runs the gamut of musical styles.
Even with the surprising end track, Spines of the Heart is unique and unlike any modern music making an appearance today. Bryan Deister’s tenacity as well as his skill make this an album more than worth his scholarship at Berklee. Here’s hoping he keeps working and evolving his sound to even more new and surprising places, both at Berklee and beyond.
Jan 26 2016
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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