Brian Shapiro Band Releases “It’s Amazing”
Pointing out the Brian Shapiro Band’s immense musical quality isn’t enough. Shapiro’s lyrical excellence rounds off his songwriting talents in a way few modern artists possess. He’s likely destined to always remain an artistic outsider; I am happy to be wrong, but the odds of Shapiro’s musical output finding widespread commercial favor is slim and nothing on the band’s new album, It’s Amazing, will change that. I doubt he cares, however, because he likely realizes, as I do, that his chance to make a significant impact on those who listen is significant.
The New Wave/art rock inclinations of “Ambitigeddon” are impossible to ignore. The arch-theatricality of Shapiro’s vocals doesn’t undermine the serious intent underlying the song, but it’s a clear instance of the band’s work qualifying as an acquired taste. I do wish, however, that the lyric’s central simile connected with more immediacy, but it’s nonetheless potent. Michael Brenner’s saxophone is the first of an assortment of surprises Shapiro and arranger/drummer Ben Kutner-Duff work into the collection with memorable results.
“So Much” is deceptively playful. There’s a cutting character sketch lurking behind its child-like melody and Shapiro’s “affected” vocal delivery. It’s a bit of artistic misdirection, musical satire, as the song gives listeners the typical self-assured Everyman of the modern era, convinced that the world ends at the tip of their nose. Guitar carries the simple central melody, but Alex Posmontier’s piano and Ben Gallice’s vibraphone help flesh out “So Much” into a well-rounded listening experience.
Things take a personal turn with the album’s third song. “Am Now” has a first person point of view implying the lyrics are autobiographical, but it’s a successful work even if they aren’t. The guitars remind me of a lighter Velvet Underground recast in a modern context. The tempo slows and the arrangement shifts near the song’s end, but it’s a crowning touch, rather than a jarring misstep. There’s a skewed strand of Big Easy jazz laced through “Go To” that helps this tale of dysfunctional need stand out a little more. It’s already another ear-catching number, however, thanks to another near-vaudevillian Shapiro vocal.
This streak of madness present in Shapiro’s songwriting culminates with the album’s seventh track. “New Newz” tosses aside all musical restraint and throws its lot in with post-punk guitar thrash and a lyric that does nothing but catalog various media outlets and platforms throughout the United States. It will be a divisive number. Some will get the point and applaud the seamless merger of punk spirit with social criticism, but others may hear it as pretentious. I liked it – it’s even funny in some ways because of the sheer fuck-you obstinacy of it.
The twinkling bounce of the finale “Savor” carries a simple yet profound message. Shapiro and his bandmates ramp up the intensity, however, at key points without ever steering the cut off-course, though there’s an underrated progressive edge present in their music. It rises to the fore during an extended section near the song’s end and generates considerable tension before segueing back into familiar terrain. “Savor” ends the Brian Shapiro Band’s second album It’s Amazing on an ideal note.