Album Review: Nicholas Allbrook - Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta
As the frontman of Perth-based psychedelic oddballs Pond, Nicholas Allbrook is a slick but edgy performer; with quirky melodies and rough vocals, he presents himself as a grittier sort of glam rocker. However, on his solo work, Allbrook is a very different character. Unrestrained, perhaps, by the poppier sensibilities of bandmate Jay Watson (a.k.a GUM) and producer Kevin Parker (a.k.a Tame Impala) Allbrook has carved a more experimental image. Whilst his darker ideas have started to seep into Pond’s music, especially on their latest record The Weather, Allbrook still saves the least conventional stuff for himself.
Reaching sublimity through the weirdest possible methods appears to be the goal of Allbrook’s solo discography. From the unstable surrealism of Ganough, Wallis & Fatuna to the grim political satire of Pure Gardiya, Allbrook has always found the beauty in the bizarre. Less than a month before Pond’s eighth studio album Tasmania, Allbrook has released Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta completely out of the blue. His third solo album, spanning a tight ten tracks, is potentially the clearest realisation of sublime weirdness to date. The question therefore is: does the strange stuff obscure or enhance the beauty?
Allbrook fabricates a sense of cohesion by being consistently unpredictable. [It] is, consequently, a hard album to pin down in terms of genre.– Nathan Brooks
One of the more obviously weird elements of Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta is the use of vocals. Allbrook is rarely satisfied with the natural human voice, opting instead to distort it into unusual, trippy shapes. The title track is a prime example of this; Allbrook offsets a squeaky, pitch-shifted version of his voice against another cracked by a robotic vocoder. Even without effects, Allbrook likes to juxtapose voices. On the hymnlike St. Pete, he occupies the coarser verses, whilst French singer Halo Maud’s immaculate vocals gush through the chorus. The result of these contrasts is a deeper appreciation of the album’s diversity; the different voices emphasise each other’s aesthetic merits, like complementary colours on a painting.
Musically, Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta revels in equal levels of diversity. The two-part Morning Tink navigates a malleable, Bon Iver-evoking melody through fragile flutes and glistening harps. Piece of Mind, by contrast, is jagged and rhythmic, carried by a cutting bassline and culminating in a disjointed guitar solo. Not long after, The Baby wallows in melancholic ambience to bewitching, but brief, effect. Maybelline immediately disrupts the serenity with erratic percussion and an incessant synthesiser riff, creating the paradoxical sensation of constant instability. In fact, that’s a fitting description for the album as a whole; Allbrook fabricates a sense of cohesion by being consistently unpredictable.
Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta is, consequently, a hard album to pin down in terms of genre. It’s the kind of music you label ‘experimental rock’ and hope for the best; even though it’s a lot more than ‘rock’, it’s not anything else for long enough. There are moments reminiscent of Pure Gardiya’s stripped-back style, especially the folky simplicity of Over the Edge, James and the sedate musings of Transperth. Elsewhere, the album is an audacious racket, epitomised by the bombastic organs and violent guitars battling for dominance on Parody of a Sharehouse. The electronic elements that were present on Ganough, Wallis & Fatuna but overlooked on Pure Gardiya also make a resurgence, largely in the form of intense, pulsating basslines.
Beautiful music doesn’t have to sound generic and strange music doesn’t have to sound ugly. Instead, it can sound like Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta.– Nathan Brooks
Allbrook ensures you buy into Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta through the sheer passion in his delivery. It’s surprising, especially if you consider he was very close to shelving the album, that Allbrook’s confidence feels so palpable. Or maybe it’s not confidence; maybe it’s honesty. Allbrook’s lyrics are as cryptic as ever, yet they feel deeply confessional. Unlike the grand scope of Pure Gardiya, Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta emanates intimacy. Even when he does get political, such as admitting on St. Pete he “assumed heaven was reserved for the liberals”, it’s in reference to personal disillusionment rather than the wider themes Pure Gardiya tackled. Consequently, the album almost feels like it was never made for anyone else to experience; like it was a private catharsis uncovered by accident, filled with dark images and vulgar language (the F-bombs are unrelenting). Comparing it to Goya’s Black Paintings may somewhat inflate the actual quality of the album, but to the extent that it doesn’t feel like it was ever intended for us, I think the parallel is there.
So, the question remains, do Allbrook’s weirdest ideas assist or restrain his quest for sublimity? Ultimately, I think the answer rests more on the listener than the music. However, whilst I can’t account for people’s personal taste, I do think there’s an inherent value in what Allbrook has achieved. With Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta, he demonstrates that aesthetically pleasing music doesn’t need to be what you expect it to be. Melodically, much of this album is strong enough to carry a more conventional pop song into the charts. However, I think channelling these melodies through such brazenly bizarre sounds produces something more remarkable. Beautiful music doesn’t have to sound generic and strange music doesn’t have to sound ugly. Instead, it can sound like Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta.
The Breakdown | Album Review: Nicholas Allbrook – Wabi-Sabi-Bruto-Bruta
Nicholas Allbrook’s surprise third solo album is able to be both strange and beautiful without compromising in either direction, resulting in a uniquely rewarding experience.