New Pagan Love Song, Paul Brill's wonderfully skewed neo-pop confection from 2004, established the New Yorker as a singer-songwriter of unusual subtlety and brave innovation. Mixing the plainspoken charm of Ben Folds with the sonic weirdness of Sparklehorse, Brill found a fertile, unforeseen meeting place of the sweet and the surreal.
Harpooner ups the oddball quotient considerably as Brill incorporates elements of dense, uptown jazz while, for the most part, forgoing conventional song structure. Such restlessness of spirit is commendable but also results in an effort that takes longer than necessary to embrace. While the lovely and inviting "Paris Is On" features the kind of cinematic pop that made Pagan so appealing, most of Harpooner strives for a more complex, less immediately appealing locale.
Featuring bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel), songs such as "I Take it Back" and "All You'll Want" are fascinating (and lengthy) sonic explorations that visit the hopeless romanticism of Brill's past while espousing a compositional rigor that, while admirable, doesn't necessarily make for easy listening. Perhaps Brill couldn't care less. Preferring the obtuse to the concrete, the songs of Harpooner hover at the edge of pop's spectrum, happy to defy expectations and eager to provide avenues of exploration that move beyond the commonalities of verse, chorus, verse.
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