Hurry Up And Smell The Roses

Tom Brislin

Independent release, 2012

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Tom Brislin is a lot of things—among them, singer, songwriter, keyboard maestro, producer, and former frontman of New Jersey power-pop quartet Spiraling. From my slightly skewed perspective, however, he will always be my favorite musician who ever played an entire tour with Yes without actually joining the band. The sole evidence of his tenure with the prog legends is on the Symphonic Live CD and DVD, where he does the best job of playing Rick Wakeman’s keyboard parts I’ve ever heard from anyone other than Wakeman himself. 

All of which is an admittedly self-indulgent footnote to Brislin’s solo debut Hurry Up And Smell The Roses. As you might anticipate, this is a keyboard-dominated affair, mostly piano and synths with a steady rhythm section behind, often reminiscent of the suppler and more elegant moments of Night And Day-era Joe Jackson or Rockin’ The Suburbs-era Ben Folds. Vocally, though, Brislin sounds more like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie, especially on the introspective, rather plaintive tunes that occupy the core of this album. The album as a whole charts a distinctly quirky musical journey from edgypop to melancholy introspection to dreamy demi-prog. These stylistic transitions—executed almost seamlessly—end up being the most fascinating thing about the album.

The opening title track feels like it carries forward a bit of the edginess that was Spiraling’s trademark, while turning a familiar phrase inside out. It’s soon apparent that this is going to be a different sort of collection, though, as sophomore cut “My Favorite Day” arrives in the form of an earnest, endearing, upbeat love song decorated with bells. At times feeling lighter than air, it’s nonetheless a winner, capturing a moment of joy we all either remember or aspire to.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“When You Told Me Not To Go” is where things turn serious for good. A deeply melancholy breakup song, it’s counterpointed to some degree by “Stuff You Would Understand,” which has more Foldsian pop drive and a bit of Broadway flair to the vocals, even as it’s essaying a lyric that’s every bit as dark and isolated (“Put the anguish / In a language / You would understand”).

“Industry In The Distance” feels like a lost tune from Gibbard’s side project The Postal Service, airy in an ’80s sort of way, its supple, synth-heavy melodies again sketching an image of longing and loneliness. After a brief instrumental interlude (“Predawn”), things take a fascinating turn. On one level, “Liftoff” is another somber, nostalgic piano ballad, but the spaceship metaphor (“Liftoff / The only way to go through the blue to the black / Then, who knows?”) gives the whole thing a sci-fi edge that sets you up for instrumental “The Outskirts,” a wildly abstract synthesizer collage with a distinct prog feel. The interstellar mood carries into the dreamy, almost nonsensical “I Hold A Candle,” a melodious four-and-a-half-minute ballad with a three-minute electric jazz instrumental coda with more than a little Pink Floyd in its musical bloodlines.

“Visitor” follows, a moody, evocative solo piano instrumental of three and a half minutes, meaning you actually don’t hear Brislin’s voice at all for more than six and a half minutes during the closing quarter of this album. This definitely adds some character and uniqueness to Roses—especially since “Visitor” is a terrific, captivating piece.

Closer “Microphone” has a nice opening segment that reminds me a bit of Coldplay’s “God Put A Smile Upon Your Face” in the way it builds tension off the urgent piano line, adding instruments one by one until the vocals come in. It then quickly develops a lounge-y ’80s flair with clavinet and synths and urgent vocals.

Hurry Up And Smell The Roses is a tough disc to sum up, in part because it stretches to showcase all of the various musical personas Brislin seems to inhabit, from lonely balladeer to snarky power-popper to piano virtuoso to prog savant. The common thread—to the extent there is one—lies in the quality of the composition and playing and production; there is simply no questioning Brislin’s mastery of all three. The question really is whether solo singer-songwriter offers the best vehicle for Brislin’s talents, and whether a little more focus might deliver music with an even bigger impact. I’d have to say the jury’s still out on that one, but Hurry Up And Smell The Roses contains plenty of moments worth capturing and sharing with the world.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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