Brijean’s Feelings is a solid set of 11 pop-dance-lounge songs, and that might be more than enough. The instrumentation and arrangements are tasteful and sophisticated, the lyrics elliptical and intriguing, and it’s the kind of album that can just easily live in the foreground or the background, in the living room, or on the dancefloor. It’s a great album to herald the proximity of spring, to get us through the last of winter and perhaps the beginning of the end of our confinement. But it might also be something else, something more complicated and multivalent.
Brijean Murphy, who along with instrumentalist and producer Doug Stuart comprise Brijean the band, is herself a percussionist of some renown, having played with, among others, Toro Y Moi and U.S. Girls. Such a background accounts for the rhythmic underpinning of the album. But it also explains the implicit understanding of space between sounds that allows each song to breathe comfortably, if not luxuriously, throughout. Feelings is an album predominantly about rhythm, and it is also, therefore, necessarily an album about time. The music itself is both percussive and watery, which taken together suggest both motion and fluidity, and this is fitting for an album that time-travels so expansively.
Feelings presents us with the interesting conundrum, by existing in four simultaneous time zones, as follows. Firstly, in 2021, the year of the album’s release. Second, in a mythical version of the future that the album’s soundscape suggests. Third, in a much earlier era, such a mythical future was first imagined via such cultural artifacts as The Jetsons and others, namely the 1950s and 1960s. Finally, there is the period when that original nostalgically imagined future was revived, not for the first time and obviously not for the last time, beginning in 1990 with bands like Saint Etienne and Fila Brasilia, and perhaps reaching its apotheosis with Air’s Moon Safari at the tail end of the 20th century, in 1998. This kind of simultaneity can make you feel a bit dizzy and perhaps even a tad postmodern, but there needn’t be anything coercively theoretical about it. Nor is this to disparage Brijean’s project, but rather to note the ubiquity of both past and future and the constant dynamic between them in our experience of “new” music.
The album begins with some clues as to what we are in for with “Day Dreaming”. Notice that it’s not called “Daydreaming”, and the words are separated, even though the activity of “daydreaming” is implied and suggested. Thus, there is both a connection and a separation between time and space in the very title of the song. Second, the song starts with a woozy watery keyboard that sounds like it is transmitted from somewhere else or through a filter. That will become a hallmark of the album’s sound throughout. Third, the keyboard then recedes as percussion, and a bassline takes over, themselves being joined by Brijean Murphy’s slightly otherworldly vocal.
A lot is happening at once here, and that’s perhaps the key to understanding what Brijean are up to. That the song eventually settles into a solid groove might be reassuring, but the general experience also puts one on the wrong foot, which is an odd way for a dance track to make you feel. It’s not unpleasant, nor is it necessarily counter-productive, but it does feel slightly counter-intuitive, and that may be deliberate. At the very least it contributes to the overall effect.
Another slightly disorienting but not unpleasant feature of Feelings is the way that so many of the songs seem to flow into each other, which doesn’t mean that they’re anonymous or interchangeable, but rather that there is a consistent fluidity to the album, a sense both of time passing but also of all time, once again, being simultaneous. And so “Day Dreaming” gives way to “Softened Thoughts”, where the common denominator seems to be a slight variation on the rhythm track, bent slightly but not dramatically to accommodate the contours of the new song. This foundational rhythm is slowed down dramatically on “Pepe”, which really serves only as an interlude or a bridge, to the splendid “Wifi Beach”, which goes into a different gear and is one of the album’s highlights.
“Wifi Beach” is what music writers have historically tended to call “propulsive”, and indeed it is. But the easy co-existence of the driving percussion with the very light and deft instrumentation on top of it shows great finesse. As does the seamless transition into the title track, so seamless in fact that you almost do a double-take before you realize that we have made the segue. And so it happens again as “Wifi Beach” elides into the title track, and time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’ into, well, you know where it goes. And of course, the way that Brijean slip repeatedly and continuously from one song to another might also be an analog for the way that the album slips and swirls between and around past, present, and future, one scenario replacing another as we pivot endlessly.
The middle phase of songs from “Wifi Beach” to “Feelings” to “Ocean” to “Paradise” and then through to the conclusion of the album with “Lathered in Gold”, “Chester”, “Hey Boy”, and “Moody” is an impressive run of grooves and melodies. You feel the currents of the album ebb and flow, just as you also feel the album gain confidence and momentum. And so Feelings proceeds to work on our consciousness, as a song like “Chester”, for example, slides into its successor “Hey Boy”, and the slippage is almost enough to induce a kind of motion sickness. The chords from one song are transfused into the next, but a barely perceptible warping of the sound as one song and groove gives way to the next. It’s almost like being on an actual dancefloor and becoming absorbed in the sounds woven in front of you.
But it’s the sense of time passing and time co-existing with other times that stays with you, to the point that it becomes almost an experience of existential exploration and wonder. In “Feelings” itself, the vocals appear to get scrambled and may or may not be going backward, as time seems to turn in on itself, just before we hit the very center of an album, where something even more interesting happens. The middle track at the heart of the album is “Ocean,” and one has to assume that the ocean in question is almost certainly the Pacific since Murphy is based in Oakland, California.
If you play out this thought experiment, recognizing that this song is at the dead center of the album and that the International Date Line is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You might also then realize that when you cross it traveling west, you enter a new day, the next day. If you cross it traveling east, you enter the previous day, an old day. Think back, then to the first song, “Day Dreaming”, and then think forward to the moment we move through “Ocean” to the last five songs on the album, and you can imagine moving from day to night and back again, from coffee bar to nightclub, perhaps, from the city during the day, filled with the bustle of commerce (as it used to be) and with the buzz of nightlife as the sun goes down.
This is a lovely and disarming way to think about the album experience as a whole. Or you could just enjoy the 11 songs for what they seem to be on their surface, a fine collection of tunes to go with coffee or with cocktails, as you please, depending on your pleasure, your time zone, and your time of day. But you always somehow have that well-known quote in your head while the songs are playing, that thing about time being what keeps everything from happening at once. It’s a line that has been attributed variously to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and a small host of lesser lights, never definitively pinned down, fittingly enough.
The fact that it has been difficult to pin down the source of a quote about the simultaneity of experience requiring the construct of time to keep it all straight is, you have to suppose, kind of perfect, because perhaps lots of people said it, at a lot of different times, and yet somehow all at once. And Feelings is, at the end, the sound of the experience of everything happening at the same time, and it’s really quite a delightful way to feel off-kilter.