Bryn Jahna is a native of Queens, New York who has just released an EP titled Chaotic Brain. An alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, Jahna describes her new collection as “songs that share similar themes of fear, insecurity and flaws. I was intrigued by my own insecurities and I wanted to dive deeper into them. The tracks share a melancholic lyricism, yet they aren't filled with hopelessness. The idea of living with and owning the fear, insecurity and flaws that you have really solidify the message of the EP.”
Jahna feels her music “lies at the crossroads of folk, rock and emo.” The Beatles, the Doors, Joan Baez and Nick Drake are her greatest influences. She also states that these are the first songs she’s written on the guitar and that they “encapsulate the sound and landscape I wish to travel down.” Additional guitarists are Andrew Bostrom and Mason Davis. There appear to be uncredited keyboards and digital drums as well. Recording took place in three separate bedroom studios with mastering by Ian T. Burrell remotely from Nashville.
For me, Jahna’s strongest asset is her voice, which jumped right out of each song, whether singing solo or built up with overdubs. Just as impressive are her lyrics, which could easily stand alone as poetry without any music at all. The songs themselves are “something beautiful, the structure of it all” as she might put it. They do feel melancholic but also open and inviting, and reward repeat listenings.
“The Garden” quickly sets the mood of the album, creating - as her press release correctly states - “a unique sound that captures unfiltered honesty.” Her vocals are intimate and yearning, beautiful but wounded. The guitars and other instruments are understated and complement the song perfectly. “My Name” takes a sudden jump in musical sophistication with layered vocals and an almost jazz-classical dialogue between piano and guitars. Just two minutes, but so striking it jumps right out and grabs you.
“Father” is an absolute heartbreaker: a love letter to a supportive parent who is aging much too quickly. Anybody with a loving father can’t help but relate, or in my case, I may be the father with “the bones wearing down.” A final voice fragment of Jahna’s father provides a sweet and sad coda.
“Chaotic Brain” is the well-deserved title track, a cry from a flawed but worthy soul that there’s more to be found within her talents than just chaos. Again Jahna creates quite sophisticated vocal overdubs, and not for the first time I wish she’d let these songs play just a bit longer; they are too good to stop short of the three-minute mark.
With the lyrics of “Bone Structure” I can’t avoid the term “old soul” to describe what I’m hearing from Jahna. She looks quite young but her songs seem etched on a soul that’s passed through hundreds of lives. I gave up trying to think who she “sounds like” as I believe that would only diminish her accomplishments. I can certainly see the influence from Nick Drake and Joan Baez, less from the Beatles and Doors. I think her Berklee education may be responsible for the beauty and complexity of her stacked vocals.
“Sleep Projections” starts out “purposely warped” with Jahna’s vocals sung from a distance, rewound, then properly reset. This one time, I’ll compare Jahna to Dar Williams, a wonderful songwriter who was also highly influenced by Joan Baez. I think we can all relate to these words: “Return me to my school yard days / Where worries were just clouds / Blocking all the summer rays / And nothing ever changed.” And in a cheeky manner, the music just stops, and we’re suddenly outside a closed door, wondering what just happened.
I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Jahna offers, and would love to hear a full album of songs with some of them given a bit more time to stretch and grow…but what she’s done here is wonderful.
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