Brian Keenan: Today This Year

[31 July 2011]

By Zachary Houle

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Strong Opening, Weak Midsection

Brooklyn’s Brian Keenan is better known as being a member of the group Proud Simon, which has released three records and three EPs, but his self-released debut album, despite some flaws, should earn him (and his band) some new fans. Today This Year is a crackling statement – or, at least, it starts out that way. “From Scratch”, the first song off the record, is an amalgam of Wilco with Matthew Sweet and is a headlong and delightful slice of Americana that is pure ear candy. The title track, which follows, is equally as good, with its lonesome steel guitar nestling against a harmonica-driven scorcher of a mid-tempo alt.country melody that resembles what Elliott Smith would have been like if he was less folksy and more of a barroom rocker. “Deer Ghost”, led by a gently-strummed banjo, is a military march of a cut that shares a little resemblance to Boston’s long lamented the Cavedogs’ “Proud Land”. With those three songs, Keenan comes out swinging with a great one-two-three uppercut that simply floors you.

Alas, the album more or less falls apart from there and doesn’t quite recover. “Light Goes Out” is a roots rocker that simply simmers before taking off, and seems a little cookie-cutter in its approach. Where the album really falters is on the next track, “Elements”, which shows Keenan trying to expand his sonic palate into a more keyboard-driven territory, but it comes off as a cheesy ‘80s synth track complete with electronic hand claps and it really doesn’t belong here, stopping the record dead in its tracks. From there, Today This Year struggles to regain its footing, and, while there are nice moments sprinkled throughout, such as the female vocal-augmented ballad “Sleepwalking” and the similarly paced “Wanderer”, the damage has been already done. Today This Year shows promise, and there are some great things to be found on it, particularly in its opening section, but one wishes that Keenan stuck more or less to his strong suit: writing punch country rock numbers with lilting harmonies that position it closer to jangle rock, rather than going beyond the boundaries of traditional songcraft and trying to colour outside of the lines. Still, there’s some stuff worth listening to here, and Today This Year has merit as a listen for the curious.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/143934-brian-keenan-today-this-year/