The Phantom Tollbooth

Fallen Star Collection
Artist:  Brandtson
Label: Deep Elm Records
Time: 11 tracks/54:13 min.

Brandtson is back with their second album for Deep Elm Records, but this is not the naturally follow-up to Letterbox. The massive guitar riffs that defined the last album are gone, and  Brandtson has also abandoned their post-hardcore sound for indie rock/emo sensibilities, with a decent amount of success.

Sadly, the stuff of Fallen Star Collection hardly sounds like the same band that recorded Letterbox. While Jared Jolley and Myk Porter's trademark vocal harmonies are better than ever, there is a noticeable trend towards more Weezer-ish pop songs like "Things Look Brighter" and "Breaking Ground." The album basically consists of several highly emotive songs and several pop-orientated songs.  However, if CD's could weep, songs like "Potential Getaway Driver," "Summer in St. Clair," and "Fighting Gravity" would flood your basement with tears. This strange tug-of-war between seemingly forced cheerfulness and near black depression ruin any chance of album continuity.

Lyrically, this CD is a study in anguished desperation and hopeful aspiration. Songs like "Potential Getaway Driver:"

    hasn't it been an interesting year
    sitting here I watch the walls watch back
    and I can't seem to let this one go...

    and hasn't it been a difficult year
    I'm still sitting here and that's a lot to say...

and "New Favorite Pastime:"

    twenty-four more to go and it will be tomorrow
    one more day older one more day closer
    to some sort of end
    ten a.m. and I'm already ready to say let's call it a day
    get me out of this bed and tell me what you meant
    when you said everything will be ok...

    tell me what you meant when you said
    take heart child be still and quiet
    know your burdens are mine and dry your eyes
    there's so much more to all of this than you can see...

showcase a band that is as talented poetically as musically.

While the band has matured, this record is far from perfect. The production is good, with that slight indie sound the band has embraced. While excellent songs like the aforementioned "Potential Getaway Driver" and "Summer in St. Clair" continue to stand out after many listens, sub-par tracks like "Probably Nothing" last too long. Brandtson demonstrates an impressive ability to infuse mood into their emotional pseudo-ballads, but is less adapt at upbeat pop fair.

While the more melancholy tracks are solid, the overused pop songs fail to pass muster. But maybe this is indicative of Brandtson's new Manic-Depressive style of songwriting? This would have been a great CD if not for the constant conflict between the melancholy and upbeat. The band should skip Manic
next time and stick to Depressive.

Joe Rockstroh    8/18/99