Some stories are over before they begin. Such is the case with Bricolage and its eponymous American debut on Slumberland. Given that the UK label Creeping Bent already released this album earlier this year it already feels redundant, especially since the band has already broken up. In press materials and on record, the band desperately wants to associate its music with the golden, Postcard-era Glasgow of the early 1980s. Yes, Orange Juice and Josef K influences are in no short supply on this album. The pop hooks, the literate sensibility and even the vague post-punk textures are all here. However, with glossy production and some less-than-stellar hooks replacing the scrappy sensibility and forward-thinking mentality, Bricolage is no Jack Kennedy. Better still, Bricolage is no Orange Juice. Either way, Bricolage begins and ends an overly familiar story.
Third track “Footsteps” is an early high point of the album, with the band using the controversial steel drum to accent the guitar hook. Although potentially off-putting due to its association with horrible island wedding bands and one Mr. Jimmy Buffet, the instrument nevertheless drives the song with its unmistakable tone. The use of the steel drum is a bit gimmicky, but it works well in the context of the sunny composition that surrounds it. Either the sound of the steel drum immediately works for the listener or not, and he or she will know within the first 15 seconds of the song. Regardless, the strength of the tune and subsequently of the band, lies in its ability to work a compelling hook. Although the band doesn’t hit upon a memorable hook on every song, “Footsteps” finds it in strong form.
“Turn U Over” provides another album highlight that hints at the best of the band’s abilities. A guitar line slices through with the hook, the rhythm section drives the action and staccato vocals punctuate the chorus. Bricolage also manages to massage the proceedings with honeyed backing vocals that add a little California into Scotland. Moments like these leaves you wishing the band would have stepped beyond the city limits of Glasgow to reach out to other influences more often. The song wraps up short of three minutes, but the hook remains embedded long thereafter. Bricolage could use a few more of these moments.
As the album continues, the songs mesh in virtually interchangeable fashion, and the slick production values dull the energy beneath the compositions. The strength of a band working in this specific pop style lies in its ability to convey strong melodies and witty lyrics. Although Orange Juice and Josef K provided the early template for this mode of pop songwriting in Glasgow, Belle & Sebastian provide the most effective modern antecedent. Stuart Murdoch and company gradually moved from introspective meditations to literate party anthems. Whether working lo-fi or hi-fi, the band repeatedly tweaked the templates of Glasgow pop. Irrespective of its hometown, Belle & Sebastian changed and grew over time with the incorporation of different influences.
Bricolage wasn’t around long enough to have a similar career arc. The band clearly had a reverence for its heroes, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Stuart Murdoch loves Felt, but his records didn’t ape its sound. The members of Bricolage (wherever they are) could take a lesson from its fellow Glaswegian.