COME gather round, lovers of finely nuanced music, for the new sound of Chicago.
Elliot Korte means this music. No jobbing careerist him, seeking a life of cars ‘n’ girls; and when you’ve heard the beauty of his latest single, “The Lake”, if you have a heart beating blood-red in your chest, you should be swept away into his vision. His songwriting, which he brings to the world under then name Bryan Away stands in a fine line of beautifully orchestrated baroque pop that finds common ground with contemporary greats such as Sufjan and Patrick Watson and stretches back with a mournful interiority through Plush to late Sixties’ wonders The Left Banke (and I mean, check all them out too, should you be unaware).
When Elliot talks music, it’s not from the angle of a hobby or even curiosity, but more as a vocation – like all the true greats we fall for, he lives this.
Which in some ways is kinda odd, since it was acting that seemed to be leading the way for him, career-wise; he played Ted Danson’s son on the television show Damages (lining up also alongside William Hurt, John Hannah, Glenn Close et al) and had parts in a few indie films. He was studying computing at college; but, y’know, it was the music that really spoke to him. All the time he was working, very privately, on his first album, The Educated Youth; no one had heard it.
His road to Damascus moment, musically, came when he wrote “Give In” in 2019. “I wrote that song and it was definitely a moment where I came to terms with what I hadn’t been doing, and what I needed to be doing,” he says. “That was a big realization.”
Canyons to Sawdust, the album, will be with us in early July and, natch, features the track you can hear herein; a dusky beauty, piano-led, graceful, the kinda song you can wrap yourself in against the depredations of the world while fully acknowledging the fragility of it all. Or, put it another way: a cracker. He sings: “I still don’t know what’s right for me / Despite how I have aged.”
And it all comes with a clever animation that dovetails so well with the aesthetic of the song – you can watch that below.
He explains the genesis of “The Lake” thus: “[It] began in an email poem with the subject “Hello new email freestyle” to my then girlfriend who I was in a long-distance relationship with. It was when I first registered the bryanaway.com domain, and I wanted to show off my new email.
“Somehow in about 30 minutes I ended up writing most of the lyrics for what would eventually become ‘The Lake’. I was open with her about feeling like I was not experiencing the full breadth of human emotion, something I’ve yearned for and which forms the theme of the song. Repeatedly I echo this desire/longing and use nature imagery and the water cycle to describe its scale and my thirst.
“I ended my poem to her ‘It will be love, and you will be the lake’, imagining all other emotions will be borne out of love, and that she will be this infinite reservoir flooding my world.
“The music came some time later. I was learning piano and playing pretty often at the Old Town School in Chicago (playing a real piano felt so much better than my Casio keyboard, so it was always worth the trip). One thing I enjoyed was improvising left-hand and right-hand patterns that were in different time signatures. It’s one of those rub your belly pat your head kind of physical challenges that also produces interesting things musically. I remember playing the piano part for the first verse and chorus in one sitting.
“I hadn’t thought about the poem for awhile, but when I started singing it came back to me.
“I immediately went back home to record and start arranging strings, it wasn’t too long before the rest of the song fell into place.”
A thinker, a feeler; a man with music in his veins.
Bryan Away’s Canyons To Sawdust will be released digitally on July 9th, and is available to pre-order right now over at Bandcamp.