Album Reviews

Hollis Brown

Cluster of Pearls

Artist:     Hollis Brown

Album:     Cluster of Pearls

Label:     Alive Nauralsound Records

Release Date:     08/26/2016

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The vault of material Hollis Brown frontman Mike Montali chooses to pull from renders promise. Revisiting songs he wrote a decade ago when Hollis Brown was in its infancy, Montali dusts off a couple of jewels that have proven to be popular on Cluster of Pearls. Originally, it was a vinyl exclusively made for Record Store Day, but after the 800 copies quickly vanished the band decided to release it digitally to fulfill fans’ requests.

To begin, “Completed Fool” chugs along with its catchy locomotion to depict an Americana feel, a technique Hollis Brown has exacted since Ride On the Train. But, what stands out here is producer Adam Landry’s (Rayland Baxter, T. Hardy Morris) ability to mingle roots music with 80’s pop glee. What we are left with is a song absolved of improbability by the particularity and force of Landry’s imagination. Though some departures have been made from Hollis Brown’s earlier offerings, in both material and members, what has remained tenacious here is Montali’s songwriting. An English major who writes screenplays in his spare time, Montali’s characters are ones we become invested in partly because they are reflections of ourselves. “Cluster of Pearls” exemplifies this as it strings together a series of coming-of-age stories through literary references like Arabian Nights and A Streetcar Named Desire, whose characters share similar ups and downs. For Montali, the song reflects his own narrative, realizing he is “definitely a different songwriter” from when Hollis Brown first set out as a band.

Then there’s the melancholy pang of “Don’t Want to Miss You,” projecting that first time you got your heart broken. For Montali, the song was his attempt at “writing the Great American Love Song.” With its Otis Redding leanings, the track maintains a simplistic ballad, almost as if to remind us that the loss we felt then was not so insurmountable after all. Then, as if shaped by the heartache and losses we face only to come out stronger, the album transitions into the seductive, confident strut of “Cold City.” Inspired by the self-assured vibe Exile On Main Street projects thanks to Gram Parson’s relationship with the Rolling Stones, “Cold City” gives the blues the attention it deserves, “Guess that’s why we love to play those blues,” Montali sings. Further demonstrating their chops, Hollis Brown sugars us with “Miracle,” a pop number juxtaposed by the penurious state of the song’s two lovers. Wrapping up dark themes in charming little bundles of buyout chord progressions this is the sort of formula the Beach Boys made their entire career out of and is one that only gives us more reason to love Hollis Brown.

– Melissa Caruso

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