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Pennan Brae’s New Single ‘The Love That I Got’

Pennan Brae’s release of his new single ‘The Love That I Got’ feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air. The Vancouver native, along with his blue-jean jacket, long haircut, and decidedly retro aesthetic is a marvelous dose of escapism for the quarantined listener during Covid-19 regulation procedures. He’s at once obviously nostalgic in his music-making choices while simultaneously post-modern, a sort of self-aware delicacy embedded in the lyrics and tonal themes of his music. Represented by UK-based recording label Independent Records Ltd., Brae seems to have decidedly final cut over the presentation of his work.

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There isn’t any of the typical, studio-imposed showiness to any song he makes, particularly not with the recent release of ‘Love That I Got’. With a vibrant yet undeniably calm riff on an electric guitar making up most of the song’s actual musical crux, minus the influence of an old school-sounding keyboard and a slight bass elevated by headphones, Brae sings soulful lyrics with a vocal performance that lowers its octaves and achieves a sort of dissonant whispering almost menacing in its tonal implications alone. The result is something that feels automatically layered, a melody that is many things at once yet entirely sonically coherent. Maybe it’s Brae’s Vancouver, Canadian roots showing – Canada in general besting everything the United States has to offer culturally these days.

Maybe such aesthetic is also helped by the production design of the entire track, polished yet not flawless. There’s a little bit of purposeful overexposure of the guitar, and a bit of unrefined scratchiness to the recording of Brae’s voice. Adding to that in the lyric video is the odd, otherworldly ambience of 50s cartoons cut and styled to the beats and rhythm of the song. Highlights of the latter include an elaborate showcasing of classic characters like Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Betty Boop.

What Brae may not have in terms of excess originality he more than makes up for in terms of style and craft. There’s a sense he knows he’s going deliberately backward – back to a time when artists were recognized via their performative success on the local radio station, as well as back to a time when performers not fitting a hyper-popularized or hyper-sexualized model – i.e. James Taylor, Carly Simon, Jennifer Warnes, or John Denver to name a referential few – reigned supreme on the charts. Brae’s deliberate shifting of publicity values previously thought unshakable before the Covid-19 pandemic represents an even greater, sizemic shift in consumer preferences.

Listeners are flocking to indie artists getting their chance in the sun, many larger scale entertainers such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Bjork stooping down from their ivory towers to try to copy and emulate a more personal, distinctive, and unconventional sound. While the results of said artists are mixed at best, those who have already specialized in such musical arrangements undoubtedly remain in the lead. While quality in said category ranges like any other, the standards are far more subjective and in the process make the listening experience feel far more personal. Brae proves he is as much an artist as he is a musician, and that the mutual exclusivity between the two needn’t exist any longer. At a time when the baby has been thrown out with the bath water with the word ‘predictable’, that’s a welcome change to the typical listening experience.

John McCall

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