Stove Bredsky - The Black Ribbon Award
Record Label: Hydra Head Records
Release Date: May 20, 2008
Dark, catchy, sometimes unsettling, and ever-changing, this 18-track release from Cave In guitarist/frontman Stephen Brodsky (a.k.a. Stove Bredsky; a.k.a. Stovetop Bredsky; a.k.a. Steev Brawdski) seems to have been conjured from the darkest and weirdest parts of his brain. Sludgy, psychadelic pop-metal that channels equal parts Primus and Pinback. Sound like a lot to take in? It is. This album is hard to digest and even harder to classify, but I'll do my best.
Mostly consisting of songs written in the late '90s while Bredsky was performing in Cave In, The Black Ribbon Award is, at it's core, a singer/songwriter album (or, according to Bredsky's Myspace page, "thing or thong rider," "swinger/dongbiter," "stringer/strong lighter," and "zinger/gong fighter"). The songs have hooks aplenty, and the vocal melodies are simply gorgeous, but many times they are buried under a layer of sludgy, bottom-heavy guitars. This creates an interesting dynamic between the strange, often delicate vocals and the doom metal guitars driving the music along.
The album does not, however, come storming out of the gates with power chords and distortion. The trippy, instrumental opener, "Blue Seclusion," innocently beckons the listener in with a meandering guitar line that wanders around like it's lost. Then suddenly, "Dead of Winter" muscles its way in with a harsh mechanical screech that gives way to a laid back jam that first introduces you to Bredsky's unique voice. Bringing to mind Les Claypool (Primus) and John McCrea (Cake), Bredsky's vocals are both catchy and strange, half-spoken and half-wailed. After the upbeat "Mayfly," things take a drastic turn: "Dead Battery" begins with a downright scary minute of noise, before the pounding drums and thick, low guitars begin their slow, deliberate march through the song. "Spacegirl Saturn" is a definite standout on the disc, ditching the doom-and-gloom low end in favor of a soaring guitar and a driving bassline. Bredsky's voice echoes as he sings about the song's titular character and, even at four minutes, the song leaves you wanting more.
Later comes "Rainbow No More," perhaps the best song on the album. The thick guitars create a wall of harsh noise, a stark contrast to Bredsky's ghostly falsetto. This track shows his ability to create beauty in ugliness, as the gorgeous melody tiptoes over the monstrous guitar riffs. "Orange Sunshine Medicine" brings the flower power, a simple acoustic ditty in which Bredsky suggests the listener "Take a little bit of / Orange sunshine medicine"; one can only wonder exactly what this medicine is, and where I can get some. This is followed by "Splatterbrain," a rock-and-roll onslaught with razor-sharp guitars accenting Bredsky's Les Claypool-esque yowling. "Chine" channels the ghost of Jim Morrison, and shows Bredsky at his creepiest. The segue between this song and "Return to Rain" is pure genius - have you ever been in the middle of a terrible storm, and the rain just stops, the clouds part, and the sun shines through brighter than ever? Well, this is the musical equivalent of that, the depressing "Chine" leading into the euphoric "Return to Rain," complete with an angelic choir singing backup during the chorus. The album closes with the aptly-titled "A Swelling Hope," a calm instrumental track that is a fitting end to grand sonic adventure.
Even though these songs are nearly a decade old, they are still relevant in today's music scene, proving Steve Bredsky's songwriting prowess and staying power. The album spans many influences and emotions, without becoming tiresome or contrived; it never gets too heavy for it's own good, or too strange for the listener to appreciate. I listened to this album with a grin on my face, and it kept my full attention for the duration. With 18 tracks, there are bound to be a couple throwaways, but nothing really detracted from the overall album. While there may be some tracks I skip during future listens, this is an album that is bound to be burning up my car stereo for a long time. Do yourself a favor and listen with an open mind - I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one song on this disc for everyone, no matter what your musical tastes.