NNAMDI spoils us with BRAT – Review
NNAMDI – BRAT (Sooper)
Review by Dustin Butoryak
Chicago multi-instrumentalist and goofy visionary Nnamdi returns with the triumphant BRAT, a sophomore album equally lilting as it is complex. Though he’s had a hand in more music projects than I can ever keep track of (Monobody, Lala Lala, Nervous Passenger, Richard Def and the Mos Pryors), Nnamdi’s solo records allow his eccentric side to bloom like a garden. Following Nnamdi’s jovial, rich 2017 debut DROOL, BRAT brings forth a barrage of genres, sounds, and emotions sure to leave you reeling. Each track manages to expand Nnamdi’s soundscape in unique and unexpected ways, a testament to his years of experience crafting music.
Nnamdi embraces his mathy roots on BRAT’s opener “Flowers To My Demons”, a driven acoustic track blending gorgeous arpeggiated guitars with a range of wacky, gentle vocalizations. The song crescendos into an immense wall of layered sound immediately followed by goof-trap banger “Gimmie Gimmie”, a delightful return to some of Nnamdi’s signature vocalizations featured on DROOL. The intricate production and heavily processed vocals on this track place emphasis on Nnamdi’s already larger-than-life image, cementing itself into his expected cannon. Other tracks highlighting Nnamdi’s eclectic goofy sound include “Really Don’t”, a perfect encapsulation of anxiety and the ways it manifests in attending to the minutia of everyday life. The track feels far away and sparse, Nnamdi and his army of vocalizations repeating “(Really Don’t Really Don’t) know if I want to leave this bed/(Really Don’t Really Don’t) know if it’s worth the time I’d spend/(Really Don’t Really Don’t) know if I ate at all today”. “Bullseye” is another, a stilted walk through themes of navigating self-worth as an artist, leaving the listener with Nnamdi’s child-like “I get around” echoing in their head.
BRAT manages to explore several new and drastically different sounds for Nnamdi as well, a decision that pays off handsomely for the record. The heartbreaking “Everyone I Loved”, a testament to exhaustion and aging, brings to the forefront Nnamdi’s unique ability to write the saddest songs using the most intricate up-tempo beats. The track flows into a jazzy, heavy instrumental featuring a plethora of unique instruments and sounds (horns, strings, synths, etc.) before halting abruptly, a well-suited yet philosophically upsetting conclusion. “Wasted”, one of BRAT’s leading singles, gives the listener an ominous peek into the pressure that can build when trying to make every moment count in relationships with others and relationships with art. This is reflected rather directly in the lyrics, NNAMDI repeating throughout the song “Tell me what you want me to hear/cuz I ain’t got time to waste/I ain’t got time to waste/I aint got-“. Though Nnamdi employs a wide range of sounds and expressions, BRAT is dripping with themes of mounting time and the looming anxiety of wasting it- tracks like “Wasted” bringing to the forefront this existential worry.
The sweeping “Glass Casket” exemplifies Nnamdi’s mastery of swift yet purposeful tonal shifts; the listener is submerged into a dreamy state of dread, Nnamdi pontificating on the balance between providing for the people in his life and taking care of his own needs with respect to his career as an artist. He sings, “I wish I was a farmer/I wish I was an astronaut/So I could feed my family/and then take them somewhere very far away”. As a reviewer who idolizes both farming AND space, Nnamdi manages to hit this one right in the sweet spot as far as I’m concerned. The swift changes in genre that BRAT thrives on keep the listener on their toes and assist Nnamdi in building tension as the album progresses. While “Glass Casket” submerges the listener in a sea of concern, the raucous math-rock magnum opus “Perfect In My Mind” launches them above these waves into a burning sky — successfully raising the stakes for the listener. “Perfect”, the best kind of musical fever dream, opens in the middle of a cacophony of noise, descending gently into an ebbing combination of arpeggiated guitars and layered processed vocals.
Even with the breakneck twists and turns BRAT takes musically, Nnamdi knows exactly when to phone it in. The penultimate “It’s OK” is a stunning pivot, Nnamdi spending the track encouraging listeners to embrace their hardships and allow space for self-care. He sings, “There’s no need to pretend/you’re ok if you’re not”. The simple lyrics stand out over a flowerbed of swelling, bright production. It’s a breathtaking moment of levity in an album navigating many rough, challenging emotions. Nnamdi has been known to finish albums with a bang, and the gorgeous “Salut” is no exception. This track is a raging house fire of acceptance, growing larger and louder with Nnamdi reflecting on faith and belief in a higher power. This closing track is a rich payoff to the wild ride this album takes you on.
BRAT is, without a question, one of the most fun and unique albums you’ll hear this year. The deeply thought-provoking subject matter paired with Nnamdi’s masterful songwriting and odd personality never cease to amaze me, listen after listen. BRAT is sure to cure your quarantine blues, if not stick with you well into 2020.
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