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How do you distill the essence of the 60s/70s chamber pop in all its variations, from Brian Wilson and Lee Hazelwood in the US, through George Martin and his Beatles productions to Serge Gainsbourg and his arranger Jean-Claude Vannier over in France?
Well, you sit somewhere in a secluded studio in New Zealand, produce and release records by Princess Chelsea and Ruby Suns, come up with some masterpieces of your own and when you appear in public, you and your band are dressed in plastic masks. In essence, you’re Jonathan Bree and your third solo album Sleepwalking is exactly that kind of masterpiece that is a product of somebody who drinks, eats, and sleeps music. Lush orchestrated pop, that has everything in it from the Lee Hazelwood/Nick Cave/Stuart A. Staples/ Neil Hannon baritone vocals of the title track, great string arrangements interspersed with Ennio Morricone-style twangy guitars, to shades of Gainsbourg with him, and one of the guest vocalists Clara Vinals (Princess Chelsea is the other). Everything else is in-between.
Actually, Bree was at it for a while, since his previous band, The Brunettes were picked up by Sub Pop after their opening stint for The Postal Service at the beginning of the century. It seems he has been trying to achieve the excellence all along, but it seems that he has hit the right vein with Sleepwalking where the enchanting pop of “You’re So Cool” is interspersed with Neil Hannon’s The Divine Comedy style melodramatics of “Characters” or “Roller Disco” with the string arrangement underlined by constant shimmering keyboards. Or, just a simply brilliant song like “Coke”
Bree is able to constantly introduce new melodic lines and arrangement details to escape any traps of boredom, in a way like a less verbose Stephen Merritt, with Bree’s arrangements being equally delightful. With all that, he just might have hit the right nerve, with the “You’re So Cool” video already counting quite a few million views. Bree, the Masked Marauder just might be that musical perfectionist that does not simply remain a tortured genius.