Charleston indie rockers Brave Baby released their debut album Forty Bells this week, and it's a triumph of chiming guitars and yearning vocals.
Often, the band channels the bombast of Arcade Fire. The comparison is especially obvious on the second track, "Nothing in Return," where vocalist Keon Masters moans and warbles just like Win Butler over big, stadium-indie riffs and muffled drums. There's even a ragtag backup choir around the 3:20 mark.
But an Arcade Fire comparison doesn't quite do Brave Baby justice. The sound is sometimes sunny, thanks to touches like keyboardist Stephen Walker's soaring synths on "Denmark" and guitarist Christian Chidester's borderline-classic-rock solo on the title track. And in place of the Canadian Grammy winners' Sturm und Drang over the state of the modern suburb, Brave Baby allows itself some moments of simple joy.
"We ditched the cars and rode our bikes / to watch the ships sail out of sight / on a Cooper River night," Masters sings on the song "Cooper River Night," the most carefree track on the album. There's even a paean to familial love in the song "Grandad": "Hooked my wagon to the back of his tractor, and we went around and around and around / Looking kind of crazy, but he did it just for me."
Forty Bells takes an eerie turn on "Living in a Country," which features a light touch of synthesizer, like a howl in the distance, as Masters sings about ambush at every turn: "Someone's in the house, sneaking up below me / Someone's in the car, out there waiting for me." On headphones (the way the entire album should be heard), the effect is claustrophobic and chilling.
The band will play an album release show tonight at the Pour House along with Octopus Jones and Hearts & Plugs labelmates Elim Bolt. The show starts at 9 p.m., and the $10 cover charge includes a copy of the new album. Alternately, you can download the album on Bandcamp or buy a hard copy from Hearts & Plugs.
Oh, and if you're wondering who painted that beautiful, muted album art, it's Adam Eddy, who formerly played trumpet and keyboards with Brave Baby. According to Hearts & Plugs head honcho Dan McCurry, Eddy is a studio art student at the College of Charleston, and he left the band to focus on his painting. "This is a photo of it when it was not quite finished," McCurry says. "It is supposedly more purple now."