Music

Pieta Brown Explores New Atmospheric Directions on 'Freeway'

Photo courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Enlisting the contribution of previous collaborators, Pieta Brown expands her sound but forsakes essential folk groundwork on Freeway.

Freeway
Pieta Brown

Righteous Babe

20 September 2019

Pieta Brown's previous release, 2017's Postcards, saw the Iowan folk artist perfect the process of remote artistic interaction, with each song written by Brown and finished separately by other artists. However, her eighth studio album Freeway embraces the shared presence of others. Recorded over just three days and featuring several of Brown's previous collaborators, including drummer S. Carey of and bassist Mike Lewis of Bon Iver, and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker of Alpha Consumer, Freeway is a culmination of musicians collaborating in the moment. With her collaborators hearing the songs for the first time in the studio, Brown hoped the immediacy of the recording process would force them to rely on their gut instincts, and react to the music and band members in real-time. The result is an album of surprising atmospheric expansion.

Following opening track "Ask For More", much of the album rests on signature folk sounds – strumming and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, light percussion, faint vocal harmonies, and piano flourishes – lead by Brown's soft, sultry vocals, to create a tenderness, almost politeness, across the album. "Coming Down Again" features some of the most engaging guitar work on the album, as dual acoustic guitars interlink an arpeggiated chord progression, supplemented by humble but pleasant vocal melodies.

Title track "Freeway" takes the album in a more folk-rock direction as driving percussion and a gritty electric guitar riff push the song forward. "The Hard Way" continues this trend as Brown's acoustic guitar is pushed down in the mix to make room for a more animated drum section, driving rhythm guitars and the welcomed contribution of Mark Knopfler whose tasteful licks – played with the usual style and finesse – smatter the track. This more rock-oriented sound reaches its height on "Beyond the Sun" with all acoustic guitar substituted for (slightly) overdriven electric guitar, that warbles with vibrato and is given a brief solo.

The most surprising, and exciting, tonal choice of the album is the atmospheric, almost ambient, accompaniment in many songs. While Freeway retains its folk core and Brown's vocals continue to take center stage, songs like "Morning Fire" feature echoing, tremolo-laden electric guitar, dim cymbal splashes, and faint piano melodies that create an almost cinematic quality to the music. That element used with mixed success. On "Before We Break" an ambient guitar drone gradually builds throughout the song, providing an apt tonal accompaniment to Brown's sentimental lyricism and following a perceptible ebb and flow of the song. Less successfully, faint oscillating guitar leads and brief piano trills flitter across "Only Flying", providing little focus to a song that ambles along.

Brown's singing is another standout feature of Freeway. Following the established folk traditional of abandoning articulate diction, her gentle murmuring often verges on mumbling that well compliments the album's inoffensive tone. Lyrically, much of the album draws on natural imagery to explore desire, heartache, and loving affection, while closing track "Shelter Now" includes more politically conscious lyrics: "Under surveillance, under construction / What good now are those wars we won." Regrettably, few of these lines are memorable.

Brown's atmospheric explorations on Freeway add an exciting dimension to the album that, although unrefined at times, make for engaging and enjoyable listening. It is a shame that the album is at its weakest when its core folk elements are exposed, with its lyrics and vocal melodies remaining largely immemorable.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.