Brave Baby’s “Forty Bells”

“Forty Bells confidently stands tall on its own musical merit and deserves to be heard all the way through.” -CB

Cameron Barham
Brave Baby's Forty Bells

out of 10

Brave Baby
Forty Bells
January 15, 2013
Hearts & Plugs

Have you ever listened to an album and thought, “Who is this? I feel like I have heard this band before”? That was my immediate response to the debut album Forty Bells by Brave Baby, an indie-rock band from Charleston, South Carolina. To be very clear, familiarity does not breed contempt in this case. Brave Baby’s opening salvo is engaging from start to finish regardless of the echoes one may hear in terms of Arcade Fire, The Killers, Matt Pond PA, and even a little Bon Iver and ghost of U2 past. Forty Bells confidently stands tall on its own musical merit and deserves to be heard all the way through.

Brave Baby (formerly known as Wylie) is primarily comprised of Keon Masters (vocals), Wolfgang Zimmerman (percussion, production, and whatever else), Christian Chidester (guitar), and Jordan Hicks (bass guitar) with Stephen Walker (keys) and Adam Eddy (trumpets) rounding out the line-up for this record. The album was recorded in a converted storage unit affectionately called the Space beginning in late 2011. Zimmerman’s brilliant production work grants this album an underlying cohesiveness that holds it together from opening note to final resonance with no areas of significant let down. One particular outstanding element in this regard is how Zimmerman shapes Masters’ vocals on various tracks creating diversity and dynamic that never seems to stray too far or come off as a gimmick. This serves to create texture and beauty which compliments well the various layers of music in each song.

Forty Bells opens with “Magic and Fire” which immediately grabs your attention in terms of pace and layers of sound before marching confidently into “Nothing in Return” in which Masters declares confidently that he wants nothing in return for giving up his heart recognizing that, “I guess I’m never gonna love, if I’m never gonna hurt.” The pace slows a bit with “Fourty Bells,” a synth/piano and percussion driven piece that displays Masters vocals and command as the front man. The diversity broadens in the Matt Pond PA-like “Lakeside Trust” and Bon Iver-esque (particularly at the beginning) “Days of Our Youth” with the prophetic challenge, “There’s a sad story growing, But you don’t want to know it do you?.” Both songs manage to transcend the comparisons to the aforementioned bands to carve out their own place in the context of this album. Masters waxes nostalgic on “Grandad” over a plodding synth line with guitar riffs reminiscent of a different era as he recounts a number of memories from his (?) childhood beginning with, “Looking over at the wheels of my stroller, I fell hard on the street, Screaming bloody murder is my first memory, I was scooped up in the arms of an old man, Who was terrified for me, He was my mother’s step father, And I was his buddy.” The nostalgia continues on “Cooper River Night” as echoes of Frankie Valli haunt the end of the song.

Amazingly, Forty Bells does not lose steam as the pace picks back up on the lurking “Living in a Country” and my personal favorite “Foxes and Dogs” which displays the greatest dynamics on the album. The album closes with “Last Gold Rush” and the Gospel-tinged work of beauty entitled “Denmark” which belies description and should just be experienced.

I have no doubt that this will make my best of list at year’s end. I am interested to see how they translate live. They will be playing the Star Bar in Little Five Points in Atlanta on January 31st.