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In just under 9 minutes, California’s Brother Mitya can take you on a journey. The music might sound slight at first. It sounds gentle, maybe a bit messy. The songs are called ‘The Terror’ and 'Tenderness.' Musically, there’s nothing here to distinguish it from any bittersweet-but-ultimately-dumb Conor Oberst project.
But those are just the colors Brother Mitya uses to paint. While both songs sound like they were made by the same band, they are very different creatures. They are earnest and there is absolutely no shallow irony allowed. 'The Terror’ is pure fear first accompanied by a seductive guitar band and then joined by sad sad trumpets. The words tell you what The Terror is: it’s when you think about your gut, about killing, smoking alone in a car, weird dogs and never having a job. The trumpets are low and breathy, and it feels like there’s no escape.
'Tenderness’ is something much brighter. Interestingly, Mitya sings much lower than in 'The Terror,’ and the trumpets have been traded for strings. Viola and cello, as well as some terrific pedal steel, fill the song with wistful good feelings. It’s about being in love and feeling lots of little doubt, but really being ok. It’s like the victory lap after getting through The Terror. Nothing in Tenderness is going to make anyone die. But it’s so very on-the-edge. This is the thrill that comes with risk, with investing oneself fully in a fragile relationship.
The way I see it, The Terror is the aloneness, and Tenderness is the togetherness. They’re both on the edge of failure. It says to me that you have to choose your risks, because you will never escape all of them. The backing vocals subtly drive this home. They are some of my favorite parts! A chorus of singers is a looming presence through both songs. In the first song they remind you, over and over again, that The Terror comes and goes as it pleases. In 'Tenderness’ they sing jokey 'Sha-la-la-la’s to taunt the fleeting sense of comfort, and then relent and play along with more soothing tones. They seem to respond to his worries by turning from weird to lovey-dovey, but it all feels like an uneasy act.
I haven’t heard any of his earlier recordings; apparently they are very lo-fi and this is his first foray into crystal-clarity. And it’s a good thing it was recorded so well, because the big bands assembled for both songs are worth hearing as clearly as possible. The lead voice lives in the middle of the mix, meaning that it takes some effort to hear what he’s singing about, but it sounds great. Don’t worry, the lyrics are printed on the insert!
The artwork is all by Kristina Collantes, who also sings on both songs. It’s seriously awesome comic-style stuff. There is an especially fearsome face on the center labels of both sides. The record itself comes in your choice of black vinyl or some random assortment of colors. Mine is mostly pink, which goes well with the rest of the pink/lavender artwork. The insert includes lyrics and detailed credits, with a very simple and pleasing layout.
'The Terror’ by Brother Mitya and Friends is available on 7" (w/ download) through Folktale Records. You can listen to the a-side at the Folktale Store. You can also get the record/support the artist through this Kickstarter!