Chicago-based singer-songwriter Brent Brown is turning heads with his new album Vision—an eclectic amalgamation encompassing a wide range of genres and styles. At times he intimates a street musician singing to Redline commuters with his anthemic choruses, sing-alongs and breezy instrumentals; other times he’s a soulful pop singer à la Jason Mraz with a pinch of funk and bit of soul.
It’s not all spoon-fed mainstream bubble gum though. Brown pulls off a convincing Sufjan Stevens impersonation with a few cinematic passages (see: “Time is in my Hands’ celestial ending complete with woodwinds and a glockenspiel), and even hints at a psychodelic pop-folk aesthetic in the vein of Of Montreal and Animal Collective. If his goal is to appeal to people his own age though, he might imitate less John Mayer and strive to be more like Bradford Cox.
Vision’s 31 flavors-approach is its greatest accomplishment and darkest retractor. Brown tries so hard to appeal to everyone—cruise ship partygoers, Potbelly lunchers and all people in between— that he fails to connect with one listener first, and because of this the album lacks necessary intimacy.
The fourteen tracks feel like a sparse collection, not a cyclical story. By the time the listener arrives at track ten “Waiting for the Deathcab” there’s no trace of the man behind teen dream “I Got Soul.” This same exercise of comparing any two songs results in the album’s glaring deficiency: thematic cohesion. Each song may have a singular message, but never fits into a unified idea.
When Brown is on his game though, he’s hard not to notice, layering guitars, percussion, strings and keys in nearly every song. His production background shines on dense, yet simplistic tracks “Run Away with You” and “Sapphire Chimes In” where he balances each song with equal parts of restraint and inundation.
What Brown accomplishes with every well-placed overdub at the song level, he loses in the aggregate. Call it immaturity; call it still finding a sound; but don’t discredit it. Brown has the talent, and seems to pair it with enough drive and focus. There’s little doubt he won’t improve on his next release. If anything, Vision shows he should be just fine.
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