Friday, August 14, 2009

Taraxacum Californicum

Warning: We're not in the carefree, bouncy teen pop world today.

Spirituality and hope are nearly impossible to do well in rock music.

Too often, the results are preachy and melodramatic or general and meaningless. Almost no one gets the balance right.

But Brandon Schott does. His new album Dandelion (coming on September 29, 2009) is a rare collection of 13 gorgeous, hopeful, piano-based pop songs shimmering with melodic hooks and heartfelt vocals. The music is spiritual but inviting, clever but not self-conscious, hopeful without being sappy, and melancholy but uplifting. These are the kind of songs that remind you of the simple power and glory of music.

Dandelion's stark, simple pop songs seem to come from a world outside of time, hearkening back to a less trendy time when achingly gorgeous melodies and yearning vocals ruled the airwaves. If Ben Folds and Jon Brion were to have a child (and who am I to say they didn't?), that child would grow up to be Brandon Schott.

From simple songs about appreciation ("May the Sunrise Keep Us Warm") to songs about lost childhood ("Four Winds") and hope ("Falling Forward," "I'll Be Waiting," "All Will Be Well," and "Unknown"), this is music for grown-ups. And the wolves are never far from the door, threatening to destroy everything you hold dear (especially in "Fire Season," my favorite track from the album). Yes, it's incredibly beautiful and catchy, but no, you won't find disposable tunes about high school romance, dancing, or who looks hot.

Ordinarily, that would be all you'd need to know. And I'm tempted to leave it at that and send you off to Brandon's MySpace page to listen to "Fire Season," which should convince you to buy the album.

But there's another side of the story. Explaining the title, Brandon says: "Dandelions remind me of childhood, of a certain way of seeing the world – of blowing seeds into the air as a kid, and watching them float on; a beautiful and weightless wonder. Yet, it's a weed – an unwelcome growth in an otherwise tended garden. A cancer."

Need anything else to tell you we've left the world of seemingly cloned teen pop singers far behind? We've stepped beyond metaphor here -- this is literal, life-threatening cancer he's talking about.

Because a couple years ago Brandon Schott was having chest pains, went to the emergency room, and walked out with a cancer diagnosis.

Most of these 13 songs were written during his treatment and recovery and the album was recorded largely with acoustic instruments in a church in Glendale, California (which lends an airy, resonant feeling to the music).

None of the songs directly mention cancer. Or religion. But they're all infused with the energy and hopefulness Brandon brought to his successful battle against cancer. And while you could enjoy the album without knowing any of this, the backstory brings a level of depth, beauty and grace to each of these songs – especially the gorgeous "Unknown," a duet with Brooke Fox.

Bonus video: Brandon recording "May the Sunrise Keep Us Warm" live with band (and string section) in St. Mark's Church in Glendale:

The bottom line: If you worship at the altar of McCartney-esque pop (and if you're reading this, chances are you do), Dandelion contains 13 benedictions to help renew (or restore) your faith.


Alex said...

By the way, "Taraxacum Californicum" is an endangered species of dandelion found in the Golden State (and Golden State is the name of Brandon Schott's second album... and there's a great video for Brandon's song "Golden State" here:

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful review. I get shivers and teary eyed reading your words in appreciation of Brandon Schotts music. If you haven't heard Dandelion yet, please check it out! W