album review: Bryan Deister turns a groove into a rut with "Spines of the Heart"
SPINES OF THE HEART--Bryan Deister
It’s a cinch that Bryan Deister worked hard on his recent release Spines of the Heart, as it seems this one-man wonder provided every sonic wash, each cradled chord, each vocal croon and cry, every earnest word, each dollop of solemn percussion on his own. There is much here to recommend his music to fans of the brooding likes of Radiohead, late-period Pink Floyd, and the post-Velvet Underground graveyard goth of John Cale. There is not much to recommend to consumers who prefer their traffic to move along rather than remain tonally static. Deister has worked hard, yes, but the range isn't as broad nor genre-bending as his publicity materials suggest with its mentions of the musician's classical training and background in jazz, rock and rhythm and blues and trance modes. Some genuine fusion of ideas might have occurred here.Deister feels deeply, or at least the mulling personas who embody the lyrics do, and there is nary a hint of joy or happiness to come away with. His music, clever in some instances, routinely trudging in others where the tone is downcast and which always seems to require the most plodding instrumental backdrop conceivable, is defeated, finally, by a monotony that results in very little in the way of variety. The experience is not unlike that of playing with one of those toys you find in museum gift shops, a flat plastic casing containing sand of different grades and weight and different colors that, when moved around and viewed with wide eyes and unflagging attention, offers a wondrous flow of sediment flowing in fluid motion to new layers, new striations of variously hued granules demonstrating what sedimentation means. Sadly, though, that is all it does, and what Deister, who we are told is trained in the disciplines of classical and jazz, not rising above the sedimentation, amazing as it might be, and revealing what else his musical garden might yield. For ninety minutes one does not feel they’ve ventured very far in the vehicle provided; one understands that the scenery and the narrative haven’t changed.It would have been a grand thing to break up the mood and the approach and give the listener more wrinkles in the otherwise smooth, if dingy blanket of music he created, along the lines of a truly crackerjack tune “Seven Eight” (referring to the song’s time signature), a jerky, Farfisa organ twist of angular cynicism that features a cool , low tech organ solo that collides,bumps and hopscotches over the jaggedly insistent. It’s the one instance where there is a sense that the narrator rises above morbid moping and like states of psychic status and attempts to re-contextualize his ’til then glum perspective. You have a sense of movement through the accursed weight of reflection, where music and words match and transform the world. Tension and release, a chance to breath faster, a moment when the ambient gloom gives away and something momentary occurs that brings us something that pulses like a genuine human response to otherwise overwhelming circumstances. I imagine there is more emotional variety and nuance in Deister’s experience and, indeed, more colors and shades and means to use them in his possession than what he allowed himself here.