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10

Erica Bramham: Songs From A Midnight Room

Phil Barnes By

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Social media engagement can make all the difference for young artists seeking to build a following, but it can also distract. The virtual world demands constant novelty and 'events' and if you enter that maelstrom there is the ever-present fear of being forgotten as your posts slip off the bottom of your followers' phone screens. One artist looking to make sense of all this is Australian singer songwriter Erica Bramham, who you may remember from her exemplary 2016 debut Twelve Moons (Self Produced), with its loose themes of birth, renewal and death conceptually arranged around the Slavic calendar. What Bramham did next was an audacious, and possibly foolhardy, commitment to resolve to write and publish a song or fragment on her blog on each and every day of 2017. The only guide was that the new day's work should build on something from the previous day's result, which is why the project was titled the 'song-chain.'

It's a seductive myth, the idea that by committing to and making space for creativity we can push ourselves further than we would otherwise have achieved, hopefully bringing about a step change improvement in our chosen field in the process. In the accompanying blog to the 'song-chain' Bramham cites research by her friend Joanna Kerr as inspiration, and in particular the idea of:

..."seeds," small ideas that inform compositions, which in turn inform improvisations, which in turn offer up new material for composing and improvising with ... "There are times when I find getting started on something impossible, often becoming paralysed by procrastination, and this project is attempting to circumvent that by offering a ready-made starting point."

But if this leads to exposing work to the glare of public scrutiny too soon, fuelling a rampaging inner critic, it can end up a prison of creative stasis. In the end Bramham didn't last the whole year but, given that most of my new year's resolutions barely make it past the first few days of January, I'd be inclined to celebrate getting to day 203 as a clear and significant achievement. Which brings us to this double CD set that features around an hour of the artist's selections from the project—mostly chosen to reflect the theme of love. Interestingly only 2 of the 17 chosen pieces were produced after day 130, which perhaps indicates how difficult the latter stages of the project became.

The good news is that when Bramham strikes gold the material goes a step further than even the excellence of "Twelve Moons." Second track "Your Shape Like Coloured Glass" is a gorgeous evoking of the spirit of the Isley Brothers jamming with Joni Mitchell with a lead guitar that ripples against a gentle acoustic on the opposite speaker. The lovely wordless vocal section hints at improvised inspiration, but the jazz police will probably be 'tutting' already—let them it's their loss. The simple but arresting promotional video is attached at the bottom of the article so you can judge for yourself.

Another cracker is "Fig Tree Slumber" which features Bramham on borrowed electric guitar playing a folky riff that sounds like Red House Painters' fabulous early work on 4AD, which Ms Bramham is clearly far too young to remember. The vocal here too is in a wholly different, warmer place —nearer Joyce in its beautiful wordless section than Mark Kozelek. As we have come to expect from Bramham the lyric is intriguing and poetic, starting from the unusual point of an ancient superstition that sleeping under a fig tree would bring peaceful repose. It's a great track and a good example of the creative development that the hothouse of the song-chain project can bring about. Elsewhere there are many other pleasures to be had—from the insistent bass line that drives forward "Popcorn" augmented with well-judged guitar shimmers, to the near song chain manifesto of "Pull a Song From a Crack in the Clouds." The more experimental pieces tend to work best when they are effectively the soundtrack to a poetic fragment like "Butter Yellow" or on the likes of "No Run to Save the Varnish" and "First Train Home," where Bramham layers her vocals using a looper pedal to hypnotic effect.

As with Twelve Moons there is no use in pretending that this is the most commercial blend of influences, yet in many ways that is its great strength. If it loses a little in conceptual cohesion over its predecessor, it is hard to argue with the quality of the material here which is largely accessible and melodic with an experimental twist to keep you on your toes. If we are being picky there were a couple of song chain blog entries that could have been included that would have improved the balance (e.g. 'Spin Me Like a Top,' and 'The Sea') but you can understand why Bramham might struggle to review such a huge volume of material objectively. Nonetheless, by following her muse rather than chasing market research or some notionally hip production style, Bramham has created an album that, while it is possible to identify reference points, is not quite like anything else you will hear this year. It is also very, very good and as such is highly recommended.

Track Listing: The Cause of Your Calluses; Your Shape Like Coloured Glass; Dandelion; Hummingbird; The Cafe and the Fly; No Run to Save the Varnish; First Train Home; Fig Tree Slumber; What Funny Things Bones Are; Popcorn; Drawer Diving; Butter Yellow; Cafe Terrace at Night; X-Ray; Apple Cider; The Autumn Scuffle; Pull A Song From A Crack in the Clouds.

Personnel: Erica Bramham: voice, guitar, mandolin; Adam Spiegl: guitar, bass; Justin Olsson: drums.

Title: Songs From A Midnight Room | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Lungmoss Records

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