Tim Buchanan would have been forgiven for simply biding his time while awaiting the future of Glow God, one that is on pause at the moment with a member doing research in Germany.
Instead, the singer and guitarist behind that promising Oklahoma City project decided to go J. Mascis on everyone and make a solo album as Cherry Death instead. And just like the Dinosaur Jr. figurehead, Buchanan made an album that breathes the same air as his flagship gig without suffocating in it, producing a distinct addition to that universe that goes to show that the blooming rock songwriter — one of the better Oklahoma has to offer out of that world — is just as formidable on his lonesome as he is with his loyal compatriots in tow.
Brain into Blue Skies is a beanbag chair of a record, a collection of relaxed and sweetly humble song forms of subtly enveloping noise and fuzz. It’s also something of a crate-digger’s paradise, an amalgam of all the finest obscure, deep-stack finds pillaged from a lifetime: ’60s psychedelia, ’70s outsider pop, early ’90s college rock deep cuts and contemporary scuzzy garage punk.
Decidedly somber and toned down, especially in comparison to Glow God’s excellent House of Distractions, the record is carved out a lot of the sonic animal that made House of Distractions so great, but choice cuts from the soft, pink underbelly in lieu of the bristled hair and gnarly fangs of that beast. Think of it as the migraine-melting, hangover-soothing answer to the unholy night of terror you subjected your body to the night before, and a good one at that.
Buchanan finds his off-kilter answer to easy listening quickly in the blushing “Hole in My Gaze.” A purposefully muddled cocktail of oceanic guitar effects (nettlesome distortion and woolly ringing) becomes a garage soul ballad — think the sweetest side of Ty Segall —heard creeping out of a music box hidden deep in the attic.
Similarly spectral jams “Stay Inside,” “Grapes and Steel” and “Master of the Age” spill and bleed through Brain into Blue Skies like a melted box of crayons, richly colorful puddles that swirl into a messy little gem of a record.
That changes with an amped-up “Take Me Over,” a bridge back to Buchanan’s more unhinged and unruly persona handled deftly enough to forgo any whiplash.
That’s true, too, of “Strange,” a house party anthem with a particularly lethal string of guitar solos — dude can shred — strapped to his back like Rambo ready to take on an entire village. But then it cuts the noise to reveal some tender “oohs” — straight out of the Dolittle playbook of alt-rock romanticism.
Assured and measured every step of the way, Brain into Blue Skies is studied without the stodginess, reverential without the indoctrination, contained without closing off, and Buchanan shows that his talents will shine no matter who is by his side, even if it’s no one at all.
Print headline: Sweet death