Jonathan Bree

Sleepwalking

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Since his days in the fluffy chamber pop group the Brunettes ended, Jonathan Bree has chosen a darker path, scattered with minor keys, darkly intoned, gloomy lyrics, and music as sparse and intricate as the Brunettes' music was stuffed full of light. Released in 2018, Sleepwalking is the most accomplished and impressive of the three solo albums he's made. It combines the melancholy grace of The Primrose Path with the drama of the classical music-inspired A Little Night Music while sounding more perfectly arranged, more precisely played, and more emotionally powerful than those two records, which is not an easy task. He's kept the baroque (and often creepy around the edges in the way that suspense films from the '70s are) strings from Night Music on several tracks, follows the same odd lyrical pathways he always has, and sings with a cool reserve that suits the chilly music perfectly. It's a myth that you have to sing the stuffing out of a song to transmit emotion to the listener; sometimes all it takes is a little crack or a whisper. Bree is well aware of this, and he uses that knowledge to his benefit over and over again on tracks, like the slow-motion ballad "Roller Disco," that let the music drop away to focus on his understated croon. The same with the arrangements; they don't need to be overflowing with sound to get to the core of the feelings intended. A bubbling bassline, a well-placed synth pad, a rippling guitar solo: these all get the job done as well as an orchestra or vocal chorus if implemented correctly. Bree is also a master at this, as songs like the sultry 3-a.m. ballad "Say You Love Me Too" (which features a lovely vocal from Clara ViƱals) and the slowly oscillating "Valentine" show clearly. He uses instruments and guest vocals like a master mixer, folds in his own quietly aching vocals, then stirs it together with songs that have sneakily sharp hooks, and Sleepwalking ends up a tasty treat. Refined and classy -- with no sweat or blood spilled, but plenty of hearts bruised and broken -- the record is a subtle and sophisticated listen made by a master craftsman whose beating heart is laid bare for all to see just below the glossy surfaces.

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