Bitter Bitter Weeks

Peace Is Burning Like a River

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Wait a minute -- this can't be that Brian McTear, the singer/guitarist turned producer turned solo artist, can it? How can it be, when the set opens with the sunny "Once and for All," a bright piece of pop that simultaneously evokes the Boo Radleys and Big Star? But it is. Now utilizing the moniker Bitter Bitter Weeks, McTear's Peace Is Burning Like a River is far removed from his two moody, minimalistic previous sets. Only "Hanna" recalls his earlier works, and even that gently builds up toward a fuller sound. And the album's sound immediately grabs one's attention. Every note within shines, as McTear's production douses it in sunlight or starlight, sprinkles it with glitter, or brings forth its inner glow. The guitars sound almost otherworldly in their beauty, an aural impressionistic masterpiece that's a study in light and shadows. Jesse Gallagher's atmospheric organ, too, enhances the set's otherworldly quality, as if coming from a nebula far, far away, while the rhythm section of Mike Fleming and Ric Menck gives the set a leanly muscled feel. The songs themselves, however, invariably showcase McTear's sweet, high vocals and his and Amy Morrissey's grand guitars.

Perfectly sequenced, the set moves from Brit-pop into the bashier pop of the '60s, and then into the airier, folkier "Danger in the Halls." The singalong lament of "Lo-res," in contrast, pushes toward the dramatic, its atmosphere shaded, the melody melancholy, the organ adding an eerie backdrop to the song. The title track is even more introspective, as McTear's fabulous vocals are accompanied only by sparse guitar and bass, with a ribbon of wispy organ overhead. "Hanna" feels even more minimalistic, even as McTear deftly weaves in bass, organ, and Brian Christinzio's piano. Between those numbers are more upbeat songs: the incandescent "Terrified"; the fabulous "Lion Has His Pride," which slides between Western and psychedelia; and "Sincerely, the Last Century," which boasts all the qualities of an epic, and calls to mind both U2 and the Who. Arguably, that latter track is McTear's best work within, both as a musician and a producer, but it's "Oxbow Lake Syndrome" where he's at his most adventurous. Here, across a slow-burning power ballad, he gives full rein to Christinzio, whose discordant piano work echoes of John Cale and Ziggy-era David Bowie. Strong lyrics, powerful melodies, hook-laced choruses, heady atmospheres, gorgeous vocals, superb musicianship, and phenomenal production all grace Peace with a timeless quality, creating an album destined to endure for years to come.

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