One of the most rewarding aspects of following an artist’s career from its maiden days is the incredible realization of his or her sound in full development. Like flowers in bloom, there is a great sense of joy in the beauty accomplished. Former Envelope member Paul Brill was never far from reaching his musical apex, a solo career that displayed immense talent in not only musical composition itself; but for the displayed end results, the songs themselves, that never asked to be more than music he loved to write and play. I’ve been fortunate enough to have known of Brill since his first solo effort, looking in from the outside as he grew and tangled with what ultimately led to New Pagan Love Song; his most complete set of compositions to date. And it isn’t so much that Brill has written songs that cut away foundations cast before him, nor material that will send writers and listeners to the kind of frenzy reserved for front cover exposure- Brill seems to have never coveted that kind of light- but rather the kind of music that becomes important to listeners.
This in a sense has become a great downfall to many artists- they can become famous or popular; but never really for any reasons we can honestly and intrinsically say is due 100% to the music itself. Brill for one is never empty or transparent. Beginning with Halve the Light, an album which I humbly labeled “the essence of America, soft-spoken country folk laced with the acerbic tongue of indie rock,” his music always filled the atmosphere it penetrated. No matter how exclusively simple the track, or how oppositely grandiose, listeners were never left cheated. Blessed with a kind of forthrightness, Brill turned to a more pastel type of landscape with his Sisters EP; stripping away the many musicians that had previously accompanied him for the bare necessities, before once again surrounding himself with the proper supplementary layers on the full length that followed. New Pagan Love Song is the completed extension to that LP, taking what he had done and polishing them off with what can be best described as ongoing refinement.
As we’ve previously seen, Brill is never afraid to grow out of his “post-country” roots. Now he can sound a little like Grandaddy (in the nimble “Desert Song”), a little like The High Llamas (the lounging “Weekday Bender”), while never being anyone but Paul Brill. The perfect example to his moving forward while remaining true to his musical lineage is the opening track “Trindade;” a beautiful coming together of his prairie-like visuals with the systematic numbers of The Notwist. When he goes distinctly folk/country in “The Troubled Life of Herschel Grimes,” Brill once again taps some of the rootsy disposition he first unearthed with Halve the Light, only this time he has injected the hillbilly ruckus with the kind of cool Earl down on the farm never had.
Some artists prefer to be loud. They like the attention and they like the noise that follows. In “Lay Down Your Weary Head” Brill sings “it’s better to be quiet than misunderstood,” and in a way he makes a great deal of sense because a lot of what he sings about can often go silently into the night. Without causing great commotion, he sings about the blues, he sings about loving your enemies, he sings about the falling leaves of a distant season, and the reasons why we should be thankful for it all. Teeming with musical tradition and simplistic, understated beauty, Brill has once again reached a plateau known to only some. And we are all but weary explorers shouting “eureka!” at the foot of great discovery.
(Scarlet Shame Records)