Seconds into “Be Gone”, the lead off track from Brad Laner’s newest solo album Nearest Suns you know this isn’t going to be your average listening experience. Part psych-pop, part Eastern-influenced, and all aural sunlit grandeur, Laner takes his Medicine magic and spreads it over 60s-influenced pop and makes a record that sounds quite magical.
I’ll just say this right off the bat, I think Brad Laner is a recording studio wizard. He rivals guys with names like Reznor, Godrich, and Allen when it comes to audio geek prowess. He does things that seem otherworldly to music. In an interview with Mr. Laner he stated to me that he would much rather be in the studio creating than playing live. He feels playing lives hinders his ability to create. If this is indeed the case, you wouldn’t know it from listening to this excellent long player. And the fact that he put out the first Medicine album in 18 years(that one he put out with Bruce Lee’s lovely daughter doesn’t really count) back in the summer, THEN released Nearest Suns in October makes me think the guy is brimming with creativity here.
The songs here run the gamut from Beatles-inflected pop, CSNY-inspired vocal arrangements, and even jazzy rhythms, all melded together with Laner’s studio trickery that leaves the listener guffawed and breathless. “Be Gone”, “Time Balm”, and “Catapult” are sublimely constructed pop gems, filled with aural spells that lull and sway. At times the songs come across complicated, but never convoluted. Laner knows when just to pull back and give us a sweet harmony in place of musical abstraction. Like Medicine’s To The Happy Few earlier this year, this record weaves the harsh with the delicate perfectly. You’re never sure which way a song may diverge, but you’re always pleasantly surprised by where you end up. “Dream Drug” wavers in your ears like psychedelic hummingbirds swimming in LSD-laced squarewaves. “Nearly Hospital High” harkens back to Laner’s early Medicine days. San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury tie-dyed positivity mixed with a good portion of Creation Records’ dark horses. “Holiday King” melts over you with breathy harmonies and trance-like percussion. “None of the Above” and “Eight Question Marks” ends the album on more pointed, jagged notes. Filled with dissonance and obtuse vocal structures, these songs serve to prove that Brad Laner takes musical cues from more than just 60s pop and 80s alternative.
Nearest Suns cements the fact that Brad Laner is an amazing songwriter and producer. His production prowess is second to none. He’s an indie rock Jon Brion. And while at times Nearest Suns can get a little strange sounding, it never gets boring. In my book, strange is good.