We all have those albums that don’t hit us at first, but soon we find ourselves fully immersed. Brandon Boyd has returned with a new solo record. I don’t find that it has been marketed that much, which is a shame, since it is really good, though it takes time. Echoes and Cocoons released on March 11th.
Brandon, for most, needs no introduction. He is the dynamic front man for the legendary band Incubus, and has been making music for most of this life. In my humble opinion, age has been catching up with him in the last decade, and so I feel like he’s struggled a little bit vocally and maybe even in musical inspiration. Incubus has long been a favorite band in my household, stemming mainly from my wife’s love for the band, but the band’s 8 album in 2017 left us both completely cold. I reviewed that album, and also a couple EPs the band produced, but this solo record is the first music by Brandon that has really grabbed me since 2011’s If Not Now, When? (and even that took awhile).
Look, Brandon has been composing, touring, and living in the music industry since 1991 at least. His work is perhaps one of the more underrated contributions to the 90s and early 00s alternative scene. At some point, inspiration might run out, at least in a particular medium. For my two cents, Echoes and Cocoons is not lacking whatsoever in stimulation, artistry, and expression.
While Brandon might be known for alternative rock, this album is definitely closer to his previous solo work, 2010’s excellent The Wild Trapeze, though there are some important differences. Whereas his first solo album was a stripped down, acoustic affair that brought post-production changes to a minimum, Echoes and Cocoons thrives and glories in filtered, hazy abstractions. This is something like dream pop or indie rock, but the music is far more interesting and untamed than that.
This album has a few strengths. First, I would point to the keys, which I assume Brandon plays himself. The keyboard melodies and synth textures are consistently both a haunting and eccentric part of this record. A good example of this is the rivetingly honest track “A Better Universe” with its backwards, spurring, alien keyboard line. I call that song “rivetingly honest” because of its lyrical openness about the death of a horrible person.
The lyrics are certainly a high point, as well. Brandon has always been an imaginative, expressive lyricist, and this album is no different. He can seemingly build metaphors out of any mundane object, but with precision and creativity. A good example of this is the single “Pocket Knife”, a seriously catchy track that was the first song on the record to win me over firmly.
The songwriting here has character. While we were listening to this in the car, my wife remarked that some songs have parts that she absolutely loves, and also parts that she can’t stand. That, for me, can sometimes be the mark of a great writer, though. A good example of this is the strange song “Ad Infinitum”, which has some of the most forceful and powerful moments on the album, such as the terrific whistling sequence, but also has more abstract or reserved segments where it seems lost. As I’ve listened to it, though, I think the song knows exactly where it is and where it wants to go. It’s a great tune that requires multiple listens, pure and simple.
Much of the album is like this. This is partly because Brandon seems to have finally begun to accept his aging vocals. His singing style has always been wild and completely “out there” at times, but I don’t think he can handle that anymore. This album, then, feels incredibly mature in that he is now composing in a way that he can manage, and he’s fleshing out and coaxing out the best possible sounds that, while not amazing with technical prowess, are somehow glorious and remarkable in nuanced fashion.
This collection of songs grows on me each time I hear it. I love the spunky opener “Dime in My Dryer”, the cautionary and darkened “New Dark Age”, and the wondrous feelings of “Petrichor”. My two favorites, though, are “Two Months and a Day” and “End of the World”. The former is a slow-burning masterpiece with an excellent chorus that gives way to an escalating, cresting melody near the end that always lifts my heart right with it. One might even call that track “progressive”. “End of the World” is the closer, and while it is mostly reserved, this is to allow us to hear the splendid piano and Hammond organ. Brandon sings his heart out on this one, and the grand finale is a stunning minute of harmony and organs and piano lifting their voices wondrously. I wish that it would go on forever, honestly.
Overall, Echoes and Cocoons is up there with so many Incubus albums. In an obscure fog of blurred colors, striking melodies, and textural choices, this album seats itself into a decidedly artistic foundation. Brandon’s style has changed a little bit, but his heart really seems present here. I applaud him for this creation and I hope this isn’t the end.
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