On their full-length debut, Brown Recluse bridges the sonic divide between two of their neo-psychedelic contemporaries — the hazy, expansive sound of Tame Impala and Dungen’s precise pop contours — while keeping their feet firmly planted in ’60s sunshine pop. The Philadelphia sextet has an ear for melody, and like those on the band’s early EPs, strong hooks carry the 11 tracks on Evening Tapestry. Throw in Stuart Murdoch-sounding vocals and you’ve got a recipe for something compelling.
But Evening Tapestry doesn’t offer the kind of pay-off you’d expect. For as long as it took Brown Recluse to release Evening Tapestry — their first EP came out four years ago — the album feels oddly incomplete. That’s frustrating because individual moments seem so self-assured: the piano waltz of “Statue Garden”, the Zombies-like harmonies and minor-key arrangement behind “At Last”, the whirring organ coda on “Monday Moon”. But taken together, a few solid singles feel like nothing more than another promising EP from the band. To their credit, they did release a companion mini LP, Panoptic Mirror Maze (which you can download for free on their Bandcamp website), in January. But spend enough time with that album and it’s hard not to think that some of its great songs (check out the reverb-heavy “Notorious”) came at the expense of the band’s proper debut.
The first half of Evening Tapestry picks up where the band left off on their 2009 EP Soft Skin, their first release on Slumberland. Small contributions from a skipping tambourine and stately trumpets blend with lead singer Timothy Meskers’s boyish vocals to fill out opening track “Hobble to Your Tomb”. The album’s centerpiece, “Impressions of a City Morning”, comes next, a two-minute blast of Wall of Sound production that should find itself on many summer mixes. Here and elsewhere, Meskers’s lyrics sound like an assortment of short poem snippets (“Uninhibitedly entangled, languorous and lazy / Eyelids wet with Sunday morning’s golden dew”) and genuinely charming prose (“Listen: a Cambodian woman in her mother tongue tries to coax her son into the bath / Through the window I can hear him splash”). At times, though, Meskers’ own detached vocals make questions (he asks lots of them on the album) sound like awkward statements of fact. He stumbles on “Wooden Fingers” with lines like “Will the symbols speak to me in a language of awful certainty?”, but luckily the album’s best guitar solo does the rest of the talking.
Meskers’s lyrics — if not the instrumentation — also cast some dark shadows, and the end of the album finally takes a sharp spooky turn. In doing so, Evening Tapestry starts to resemble its companion LP Panoptic Mirror Gaze more in mood and narrative. But it doesn’t make the proper debut any better. A Twilight Zone keyboard melody on “Paisley Tears” should add texture but feels gimmicky. “March to Your Tomb” erupts with strange, ghastly scenes of “blood on her womb”, “a smiling skull”, and “pale flesh” gashed “like barb wire” (and it’s not clear why Meskers has to march now after hobbling to his tomb on the first track). I get it: It’s only sometimes sunny in Philadelphia, but these detours into the stuff of ghosts and goblins seem to interrupt the album’s cheery vibes more than complement them. Making a coherent whole out of the psych rock that first turned listeners onto the band, their growing fascination with morbid themes, and Meskers’ thinking person’s meditations, is no small feat. But Evening Tapestry (and Panoptic Mirror Gaze) offer enough reasons to think that Brown Recluse has it in them.