David Bridie

Act of Free Choice

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Inventive Australian songwriter David Bridie finds new layers in his well-established gift for moody atmospherics with this solo recording debut. Fans of his work with the chamber pop band My Friend the Chocolate Cake will recognize Bridie's experimental spirit and his knack for rich melancholic loveliness. But they will also note a deliberate move away from acoustic and orchestral instrumentation in favor of detailed electronic soundscapes. Act of Free Choice has more in common with Bridie's ambient experiments for Not Drowning, Waving than anything in his recent catalog (indeed, former bandmate John Phillips lends a hand on a few tracks), but this project clearly has its own sonic identity. Like Neil Finn's Try Whistling This -- another adventurous solo debut by a masterful alt-pop songwriter from down under -- Bridie's effort explores a dark new frontier. The album is dark and contemporary but rooted spiritually in the ancient natural mystery of the outback wilderness that plays a significant lyrical role in tracks like "The Koran, the Ghan and a Yarn" and "Kerosene." "Breath" provides a striking example of this anachronistic tapestry, weaving together exotic Aboriginal wailing, resonant acoustic piano chords, gentle clarinet solos, and distorted techno effects. Bridie's most effective vocal strategy is to find a respectfully unobtrusive place in the thick of his gorgeous soundscapes. When he plays a more dominant role, as on the unusually aggressive ambient rocker "Float," his breathy tenor can be slightly grating in its resemblance to '80s pop crooners like Bryan Adams and Michael W. Smith. Bridie is a good singer, but his real strength lies in a compositional adventurousness that places him in a league with younger studio wizards like Moby and DJ Shadow.

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