Album Review – Weird Year by Neil Brogan (2020) (self released)

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Lockdown music arrived in two waves during 2020. Wave 1 was between around May and August. This largely consisted of middle class, twenty-something bedroom pop artists, indulging their carefully coiffured anxiety disorders, by penning tales of their woes, as and when the gaps between mum’s coco and three home-made meals a day provided them with the melancholy inspiration to mither and moan about their obvious hardship.
The second wave was altogether more contemplative and actually produced some wonderful sounds from artists prepared to step back from the immediacy of the situation and assess the lockdown experience in both it’s actuality and entirety. This wave was from around September to now.
Neil Brogan’s (the frontman of the Sea Pinks) debut solo album, Weird Year, is unequivocally the best I have heard so far, both from a musical and lyrical perspective. It is an absolute ‘phase 2 lockdown music’ masterpiece.
Musically it it takes on three interlinked directions. Tracks such as 20/20, You’re Sad Today and For The Waves, take the melodic intent of the Sea Pinks sound, but course it through a 90’s chiming jangle filter that hints at the intonations The Cry sound. It’s a subtle slide away from the sound of his other work, whilst still reinforcing who was obviously the main influence in that aesthetic.
Painting Butterflies, Life Itself and Kitebird distance Brogan from his sounds of yesteryear even further, with jangled, twang infused riffs, that hint at a prettier version of Ryan Marquez in his The Umbrella Puzzles guise, whereas Halloween is the Season and Neighbours is that perfect mix of Parker Longbough lo-fi fuzz and The Divine Comedy meets Darren Hayman whimsy.
Musically the album is so good that you could pledge your last post COVID redundancy money on a purchase of this album even if you did not speak a word of English. However, it is the lyrical intonations that really augment this album. For this is a collection of tracks, plainly written at different periods throughout 2020, that chronicle the true experience of the ‘normal man’ throughout the pandemic year and as such most of us will be able to relate to it on many levels.
As such we see opener 20/20 repeat almost ad nauseum that ‘everything will be ok’. It was the somewhat blinkered (in hindsight) view of many, especially men, who just dismissed all that was going on in South East Asia as just another bird flu. Myself included, this was just my way of not worrying or at the very least parking the worry for another day.
Similarly we see the boredom of lockdown displayed in Painting Butterflies. Can you remember Facebook being flooded with sudden pictures of crap art and flambuoyant meals as people got their ‘creative’on all of a sudden during lockdown? Perhaps I am off the mark about this being the subject of the track, but it just has that feel.
The lockdown strain on relationships is also touched upon. The previously unquestioned confidence in the strength of a relationship suddenly begins “entertaining doubts” in Life Itself, whereas You’re Sad Today sees him reflect on a partners mood today in comparison to yesterday.  Perhaps Brogan is always a contemplatitive soul. Or perhaps like me, the extra time with his partner made him see more things about them, see more things about them together, or at least think about such things more to fill the extra time.
I know I love my wife of a squillion years, more than ‘Life Itself’, but jeez she annoyed the crap out of me at times during lockdwn, even though she remained the only person I could ever stomach lockdown with.
Similarly, lockdown intolerance is not so much hinted upon but smacked at with a big stick in Neighbours as Brogan holds nothing back in relation to his neighbours total disregard for any lockdown rules and although their loud propensity to party obviously always irked, such people just became even more tiresome when you could not escape such irritations as muchduring extended periods of forced proximity.
Finally, the wonderful Hallowe’en Is The Season probably summates the saddest feeling that we were left with post hard-lockdown, that appears to have come to fruition with the appearance of the various ‘second waves’ across the world, when he opines that the “new world is way too scary’ to go out.
Melodramatic perhaps, but the next time you are at the shops with a big hanky on your face, splashing chemicals on your hands for the seventeenth time since lunch and greeting people you love with an elbow, just ask yourself if it is so far off reality?
Essentially, whereas phase 1 was just plain maudlin, this Brogan debut leads the best of a phase 2 collection of lockdown music that will one day be looked back on as helping to explain what really went on in the pandemic years. Although there has been tragedy fo many families, the true feeling for most of us is just the feeling of sad uneasiness that this album conveys.
Truly brilliant stuff.
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