Robert Gomez: Brand New Towns

[1 April 2007]

By Joe Tacopino

The music of Robert Gomez will probably feed into the fallacious assumption that Denton, Texas, is home to the next big burgeoning music scene. This tiny college town is located deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, and ever since the success of last year’s indie rock sensation Midlake, there has been increasing interest in this bucolic town. Now, the label who brought us Midlake, Bella Union, will attempt to continue the Denton tradition with the melancholy relationship rock of Robert Gomez.

Released in Europe earlier this year, Brand New Towns has been lauded by the British press as being something like a phenomenon (5 stars! What are you guys at The Independent smokin’?). Gomez’s indie rock has a textured, melodic quality, drawing comparisons to both Elliot Smith and Pete Yorn. But Brand New Towns is no Figure 8 or Music for the Morning After. Gomez’s drowsy guitar tales sometimes cross the line from melancholy to downright morose. I know this is break-up music, but does it have to be so depressing?

On “If I Could Have You Back”, Gomez ponders, “If I could have you back / I’d only break you”. As if the melancholy strums in the verse were not enough, Gomez drives home his misery with this sad refrain. Set to the backdrop of lazy, yet intricate, soundscapes, these melancholy laments exist throughout the effort. Giving us more fodder is the bad break-up song “All We Got”, where Gomez pleads to lulling strings, “Don’t quit me / Don’t quit me now”. (This guy just can’t seem to let it go.)

Much of the album seems to be influenced by Gomez’s past. As a child he traveled for six months with a circus (maybe he has a third nipple, I don’t know). Then he studied Cuban guitar with Tres master Nelson Gonzalez (I haven’t heard of him either). Anyhow, these disparate experiences have influenced his moody guitar rock, drenching each selection in mellow, depressing atmospheres. Gomez uses the presence of horns and strings to complete these dramatic soundscapes.

Occasionally, the guitar texture and horn action cede a pleasing result. Opener “Closer Still” has a steady groove and guitar riff which merges with soothing horns. We are even treated to a catchy keyboard riff on the almost upbeat “The Same Sad Song”. The fleeting moments of optimism are where Brand New Towns thrives. These instances, however, are exceptions to the mundane, as most of the album sadly trudges along.

If Denton, Texas, aspires to be put on the indie rock map, they’ll have to do a lot better than Brand New Towns. Gomez has some legitimate potential, crafting sad wispy songs and textured moody rock, but his initial effort is just too zombie-like and depressing. My advice would be to get a new girl, or get over the last one. Then go write some more songs.

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