Jonathan Bree: Sleepwalking (Lil' Chief)

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Boombox Serenade ft Crystal Choi
Jonathan Bree: Sleepwalking (Lil' Chief)

In a cover which suggests the work of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte's masked figures in paintings like The Lovers and The Heart of the Matter, Jonathan Bree presents and equally mysterious and sometimes gorgeously strange collection of orchestrated songs which deal with seductions, online sexuality, former lovers and . . .

So much more in these cleverly coded lyrics which sit in avant-pop arrangements around his sometimes dark and languid speak-sing vocals.

On Boombox Serenade he sounds like the Francophile Scott Walker of the late Sixties in a brooding ballad beamed in from a very strange movie, which abruptly cuts into a sliver of electro-pop on the jerky but appealing You're So Cool which at one level is about holding on to artistic dreams but might also be about a possessive lover caring for a spirit wounded by the world's indifference. With sweeping and eerie strings, and a twanging guitar.

There are two duets here with Lil' Chief labelmate Princess Chelsea (and we are overdue an album by her): the cinematic but emotionally cool Static where they do subtle Nancy'n'Lee/Serge'n'Jane -- or better analogy perhaps, an imagined encounter of Leonard'n'Charlotte -- counterpoint a piece about a sexting and the emotional distance the online world demands, and it's bookend of Plucking Petals about each party's similar self-doubt in a relationship (she/he loves me/not).

The arrangements here shift from the woozy to the slippery and fleet-footed pop-funk of Say You Love Me Too featuring Clara Vinals (who has also worked with Lil Chief founder Scott Mannion) which has the simplest but most effective of lyrical hooks in the title but is also part romantic ballad.

Characters has an appropriately disconcerting string arrangement behind the prominent beats, and it's not every day you hear a song which mentions agoraphobia and a body dysmorphic. (It's about a smart woman who remains at home and tweets regularly.)

And the final track Fuck It brings the troubles in the relationship which have been peppered throughout to a strange but neatly ambiguous conclusion. It the title and sentiment dismissive or literal?

This is clever, but not clever-clever, stuff.

There is some serious musicianship on call here also: Andrew Keoghan on violin, Hollie Fulbrooke (aka Tiny Ruins) on cello, viola/violinist Jessica Hindon . . .

Jonathan Bree has delivered some very knowing pop in the past (notably with the Brunettes, here too with the approachable Valentine) but Sleepwalking is a beguiling turn into a more challenging, somewhat European and filmic, sound where the melodic textures and arrangements are as important as the compressed lyrics.

Very much a slow, impressive grower which requires and deserves serious attention. Wittier than this description sounds too.

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