The mysterious and criminally underappreciated Mako Bron is the moniker of one Chris Brookman whose work we have followed assiduously now for years – his EP ‘Cloudbites’ made our list of favourite antipodean releases for 2021 and, now, his debut album ‘Halfway Home’ has just slipped in under the barriers as a late entry to our list of favourite antipodean releases for 2023, due out shortly. Check out our earlier reviews here. Eschewing anything like management or PR, Brookman releases exquisite pieces of the purest indie pop with all the brilliance and eloquence of bands like The Lightning Seeds.
Mako Bron uses an electronic vibrant and aquatic thrum behind his deep vocals – I am made to think of the vastly underrated Jona Lewie from time past mixed with elements of Depeche Mode and an eighties bubble pop fringe that covers an air of regret and loss while causing a sense of euphoria. His is a sound that throws a Britpop/eighties fizz in the jar with an element of the Flying Nun Dunedin sound and that filtered sunshine sound of Brisbane, and shakes it all around to create a delicious concoction.
Of the album, Brookman writes:
I like to try and connect songs that end up on a release together. I’d been playing around with a bunch of songs that didn’t necessarily fit with those on the previous EPs. With several of them I’d made a few attempts to get right, but it all just seemed to come together once I freed myself of certain expectations and stopped trying to make everything a single.
The thematic of the album is very much about family and home. All of the songs are about people close to me, both alive and dead, past and present – with a few songs reflective of particular periods of time.
This lends a melancholic air, a bittersweet taste that permeates each track but is bolstered and given an indelible spark by the buoyant music. The themes of love, regret and loss thread throughout, with an acute personal and observational style that sets the concept of home as an anchor throughout turbulence and unrest.
Brookman perfectly captures that element of nostalgia – the dichotomy many of us feel of a memory of our youth soaked in a bacchanalian excess of joy and discovery mixed in with the uncertainty, anxiety and regret that seems to become more crystalised and defined as you grow older. A bright spark in the timeline of life that just as quickly dissipates and gets reevaluated.
The album opens with the vinyl crackling and vintage feel of ‘Home’ with its tinkling pianos and slightly distorted vocals, evoking an old crooner on a 1930’s cruise ship about to hit an iceberg. It is a short, quiet and understated opening to the album: a retro style that seemingly sets the scene for what is about to follow.
Second track ‘Left This Town’ was written after Brookman visited his home town and he says of it:
…it’s a song about growing up, moving on and accepting the things we can’t change.
As is Mako Bron’s way, it is a poignant reflective track imbued with a sense of personal history and delivered with a sparkling pop sensibility replete with sky-scraping anthemic choruses and crisp shimmering instrumentation. The lyrics are drenched in melancholia, with a heart breaking honesty:
All the sorrow and the down
You left this town
Left a hole in the ground
All the dead ends and frowns
Broken little town
All the love in the world couldn’t keep you around
This is a stunning piece of music both in terms of songwriting, musicianship and production.
The motorik drumming opening ‘Technical Karma’ launches the song with an effervescent pacing and splashing guitars and dewy droplets of synth. Brookman’s vocals are wistful and distant that blast into a heart quickening cinematic chorus with layers of vocals intertwining. Where this track opening with wisps of wind, ‘King of Angles’ kicks off with twittering birds and a ranging horn blast framing the track. It is yet another euphoric pop song that fizzes and skips along with a radiance. Again I can’t help but think of the glorious pop sensibilities of bands like The Lightning Seeds.
‘Object In The Sky’ rolls off on an ambulant bass and wisps of strings and synth before launching in to another anthemic blast, riding on Brookman’s wistful, melancholy vocals. The Mako Bron signature sky-scraping chorus tears through like a tornado, moving, celestial and statuesque.
‘No Ears’ has an electronic thrum and vocals that recall Depeche Mode – distant and achingly melancholic. There are delicate layers of synths and percussion that billow and curl underneath the vocals, ebbing and flowing, yearning and mesmerising.
‘Motor Home’ has a Billy Bragg touch in the reflective vocals and style as Brookman dreams of escape and ‘Shy, Dry and Occupied’ continues this floating reflective style: a gorgeous majestic ballad that shimmers with Brookman’s expressive vocals.
‘Halfway Home’ glitters and sparkles with a poignancy and poetic lyricism delivered over a scintillating instrumentation, layered and nuanced but ultimately thrilling with its anthemic stadium ready voltage. Mako Bron continues to create beautiful pop songs that glitter and shine in the darkness, and Brookman deserves a much wider audience.
The production is crisp and sharp. Brookman says of the recording process:
When I started the album I’d recruited some established producers to mix the tracks, as well as some really great session musicians play on it, but quickly realised that I was never going to be able to finish the thing in a reasonable timeframe given the expense – so I basically played all the remaining parts myself, taught myself to mix, and finished the album off on a shoestring – bootstrapping to make it happen.
The finished product is a testament to Brookman’s songwriting, musicianship and production skills. The album is out on 17 December 2023 and will be available to download and stream through all the usual sites.