Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

Rating: ★★★★½

Ted Leo has been around long enough to have amassed a great deal of influences and personal touches on his musical repertoire.  Throughout the years he’s tried hard to squeeze all those influences into one cohesive album, to varying results.  Finally, The Brutalist Bricks sees Ted meeting expectations, combining influences and flair to create one of his best records to date.

His voice opens the album on “The Mighty Sparrow” with his trademark yelp meets croon.  You’ll notice that ringing guitar in your ear just before the drums kick into the song.  But, like the perfect Ted song, he slows it down in the middle just before a solid drums solo.  It’s this kind of classic songwriting that makes his music seem so refreshing and enjoyable listen after listen.

Then the group kicks it up a notch with “Mourning in America.”  Here is the hard-hitting song that began to surface on Living with the Living, but instead of a non-stop barrage of fury, he tones it down around the 2 minute mark.  Somehow, the rockers on this album seem so much more refined, as if he found the perfect recipe for his creations.

You’ll find yourself already involved in the album by the time you reach the one-two punch that is “Ativan Eyes” and “Even Heroes Have to Die.”  It’s the way that he strikes the chords that grabs at you emotionally in “Ativan Eyes,” but the vocal performance near the end grabs you when he strains to push his notes a bit higher.  The latter number is one of the catchiest tunes Ted has written, yet you’ll find it hard to figure out precisely why this is such an incredible song.  It seems like any other song he’s done, until you hit that ridiculously poppy hook in the chorus.  Some might say that this is a radio-friendly song, but the way he mutes his picking just prior to the “ooooooh, oh well” moment that is the hook makes it distinctively Ted.

Even when you hit the seemingly highest point, a place where Leo has occasionally fallen off in the past, The Brutalist Bricks continues to deliver great moment after great moment.  “Bottled in Cork” begins with a riotous fury of guitar and commentary of the political sort, but he pulls back and throws in an acoustic moment talking about “the path of least resistance” that carries until the end.  He mixes it up further with “One Polaroid a Day,” which is sort of a groovy number fueled by his “chugga-chugga” guitar rocking out (there might even be some sort of harmonics in the background) prior to a mini-solo, then going back into the groove.

Be sure not to miss “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees.”  For me, a long time fan, this is probably one of my favorite tracks.  The throbbing bass lines provide the backbone, which gives Ted the freedom to maneuver his guitar back and forth throughout the song.  This time he seems to relish in some negative space, filling it with feedback, but his vocals feel so warm here, that you just have to fall in love with Ted all over again (if you ever stopped).

And then there is the swan song, “Last Days.”  It’s the perfect closing statement for The Brutalist Bricks. It encapsulates everything about this record, and about Ted Leo.  It’s got that twangy guitar sound that is all things Ted, but there are some eruptive blasts throughout, both vocally and musically.  It shows you that he finally found the formula that allows him to put the tenacity and vigor of his live shows into his music without going too far on record.  It makes for a perfect personal statement for Ted Leo and should push the band further into the hearts of listeners.


Download: Ted Leo – Even Heroes Have to Die [MP3]

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