Edie Brickell and Harper Simon's music has an avant-garde pop sound with an electronic edge born out of studio production techniques that squiggle and swirl behind the vocals.
There’s a price to being the wife or a son of a famous musician. People expect you to sound like the star, and if your work is less than stellar or even familiar, you are easily dismissed as some sort of parasite. Think of the careers and reputations of Patty Scialfa and Jakob Dylan, who have earned their stripes but are still considered wannabes by many fans and critics. And that’s not to mention the lesser lights whose record companies and publicists promoted them as extensions of their famous connections only to have their professional lives go down their tubes and their discs consigned to cut-out bins.
Which is to say, one needs to listen to Heavy Circles with open ears. The group is a joint product of Edie Brickell and Harper Simon, the wife and son of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Paul Simon. While Brickell achieved fame years ago as a member of the New Bohemians, she has gone largely unheard in recent years. Harper has recorded infrequently (he recently recorded a rousing version of “Yankee Doodle” on the Janet Reno inspired three-CD set, Song of America), but has not put out a disc of his own.
The style and quality of music on this disc will surprise anyone expecting anything that resembles folk rock. This has an avant-garde pop sound with an electronic edge born out of studio production techniques that squiggle and swirl behind the vocals. All of the tunes share a propulsive beat that keeps the melodies moving forward.
Brickell writes and sings artful tunes whose lyrics often resemble descriptions of paintings (“Fruit in a bowl, a window, and an Egyptian curtain / Nude with the oranges and greens and the bald head is turning”) or movie scenes (“The neon burns in the window of a bar / And we all turn to look at where we are”). Simon encases them in a sonic frame that highlights the way the words are phrased. When Brickell croons a line like “I’m so confused”, Simon’s production (with the assistance of Bryce Goggin) makes sure that each word receives the same accented attention.
Simon’s rhythmic accompaniment (he plays guitar on all songs and bass on several others) forms a pleasant contrast to Brickell’s languid vocals. He allows her to lead and prods her to keep from going to far astray from the original direction. This gives the music an organic feel. He doesn’t take any extended solos, nor does he allow any of the guest artists -- including other famous progeny Sean Lennon, Martha Wainwright, and Inara George -- to take bows. Simon dedicates all the energies to the service of the songs.
That said, some tracks are better than others. The best ones, like “Henri”, “Confused” and “Oh Darlin’” come off as more fully formed entities while some others, like “Wait and Wait” and “Easier” seem like unfinished sketches. Overall, the good tunes outweigh the mediocre in terms of number and value. It’s a fine record, and if this were created by people no one anybody had ever heard of, this album would probably be generating an indie buzz.
No doubt there will be people that slam the disc saying it’s no Graceland or overpraising the band saying, look these people can really create as if Brickell and Harper were monkeys in a zoo throwing paint on a canvas. The reality is, Heavy Circles is a promising new band whose debut disc offers many moments of pop pleasure, and that’s a good thing.