Jonathan Bree’s second solo album, A Little Night Music, confirms how far Bree has traveled since he first achieved prominence with his former band mates in The Brunettes, an outfit that successfully fused indie sounds with somewhat corny bubblegum catchiness. Although served with a heavy dose of ironic detachment, this indie bubblegum amalgam proved to be simultaneously irritating and irresistibly hooky. That’s not what we hear when we listen to ALNM, though.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Night
Although ALNM certainly has its own lighter touches, it deftly situates even those moments within an overall mood that it considerably darker than anything we've heard from The Brunettes. As ALNM plays, its combination of orchestral manoeuvers and crooning singing can’t help but remind the listener of the sweetly crooned but acerbic lyrics of Lee Hazlewood or the dramatic moodiness of Scott Walker. Unlike the extremely rich orchestration that accompanied Walker’s voice, however, Bree has opted for a more tempered, scaled-down use of strings on ALNM.
The result is a semi-orchestral collection produced on a shoestring. Bree has been very open about how deeply classical music has influenced his writing and production for this album. His orchestral scoring, though, has a sort of distressed or deliberately rough quality that puts a lot of distance between him and the likes of Bartók and co. Bree clearly knows what he’s doing here, since the album’s intimate recording style endows it with an emotional quality that a larger-scale or more richly textured approach would have ruled out.
A New Intensity
What’s surprising is that an album that dispenses with both rock and R&B works so well. Just as the sound of ALNM combines the orchestral with the low-key, Bree’s lyrics somehow wrest a kind of perfection from the trivial and the apparently commonplace. Although we’ve focused on the album’s orchestral sounds and moody atmosphere, we need also to pay due respect to the moral anger that drives the album and brings it together. This moral intensity is evident, for example, when Bree castigates a woman who is too worried about her coffee being hot enough to spare a thought for dying infants in Africa. Right on target!