Paste – Review

Album: Harpooner
Reviews, Issue 28
By Palmer Houchins

Gifted singer/songwriter opts for deconstruction and electronic fillips

If Paul Brill’s life is part rural and part urban, part coastal and part landlocked, then his music is similarly hedged between competing binaries. The one-time marine biologist is also a sometime film and radio composer who writes, records and releases all of his own music. This vocational transience surely informed Brill, whose captivating 2004 release, New Pagan Love Song, cast the songwriter as more of a song tapestry maker, with dissimilar parts cut, pasted and eventually interwoven. A bit farther down this path stands his latest full-length, Harpooner, a stunning collection of pastiche where electronic soundscapes distantly meet straightforward Americana-pop songwriting fare. Opening track “Consanguine” brilliantly shakes, blips and creaks with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-like deconstruction and dissonance while a melody and chorus frailly teeter on that same craggy ground. Brill probably programs more than he strums, but the results are still warm and lush with soft earth-worn elements grounding his sharp sonic abstractions.

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Magnet Magazine – Review

“The Sun Will Come Up”
Album: Breezy
8.5 stars out of 10

After scoring movies about genocide, rape and murder, you can’t blame Paul Brill for wanting a change of pace. Breezy, his first solo album since 2006’s brooding Harpooner, is about as far away as you can get. It’s a cool glass of sunny summer pop, complete with euphonium, beatbox, oboe, pedal steel, bass clarinet and found percussion.

The production overflows with crazy ideas, almost all successful, from the faux-Bollywood “Kissing Cousins” to the rhumba-and-roll “How High the Fishes,” the bossa reinvention of “S’Wonderful,” and the ringing guitars of “Sunny Guy,” which opens and closes the album. There’s pain, too, mostly tragicomic (“After the slumber and sickness take hold, just lay me down in the sand/Let the water’s salt burn my skin off and scorching sun bleach my bones,” he sings, dictating his last will to a chorus of “la-la-la”s), but it’s smartly layered beneath these ridiculously smooth surfaces, making the dissonance that much more satisfying.

Kenny Berkowitz

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MOJO – Review

New Pagan Love Song

Masterful

Album: New Pagan Love Song
By Sylvie Simmons

Similarly undervalued – if young and from New York – Brill writes masterful songs , singing them (as I recently saw him do live, solo, with acoustic guitar) with an understated beauty a la Elliott Smith or E of eels. On his third full album, he plays with sound and production in an un-Americana way, using electro-percussion, piano and grooves, but the songs are no less good.

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CMJ Alert

New Pagan Love Song

One of the most sophisticated, yet subtle, indie songwriters around.

Album: New Pagan Love Song
Issue No. 898

For a guy that lives in New York City, singer-songwriter Paul Brill makes music in refreshing contrast to the NYC grit, paranoia and garage rock hype. “Weekday Bender,” for instance, has a carefree west coast vibe, its twinkling Fender Rhodes piano invoking a drive along the coast with the top down while Brill’s layered harmonies tip you off to time spent in California with his former band, SF Envelope. The more people hear Brill songs, the more he’ll be referred to as one of the most sophisticated, yet subtle, indie songwriters around.

ATTN: Fans of Ron Sexsmith, Sparklehorse, John Vanderslice
KEY TRACKS: “Weekday Bender,” Everything I Believe In, ” “Desert Song”

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Rolling Stone – Critics Choice Top 10

Singer-Songwriter Melds Folk And Electronics On New Record
Album: Electricana
By David Chiu

Paul Brill’s defining moment did not occur with a guitar in his hand. Instead, in the wake of his San Francisco band SF Envelope’s breakup, he found himself in his native New York, working at an East Harlem middle school for at-risk kids. “I was really burnt-out on playing music, so I ended up doing development work, cooking lunches and teaching,” says the soft-spoken singer-songwriter. “It was a transformative time for me. I became interested in social justice and equity for children of color. And after a year working there, the inspiration returned to keep going with my music.”

Thoughtful and arresting… Brill’s defining moment.

The time away also gave Brill a chance to digest new sounds, as evident by his latest album New Pagan Love Song , which blends electronic textures with a folk-rock sound. He dubs it “electricana” — half electronica, half acoustic Americana. “I was
listening to a ton of electronic music,” he explains. “I really had a strong desire to completely reinterpret what I was doing. With this album, I did most of it myself with all the electronic gear at home.”

Of the new songs — sung in Brill’s gentle, heartfelt voice — his favorite is “Powerlines.” “I was really struggling. I wrote that as a folky, singer-songwriter thing, and I didn’t want to do any songs like that on the record. So I decided to throw away the guitar and go for the loops.”

Brill’s songs are melancholic anthems for the weary and down-and-out. He singles out the title track as the closest to anything upbeat. “It was the starting point for the record,” he says. “Images of late fall, an Indian-summer kind of vibe.” Although he’s now focused on music, Brill — who plays a string of California dates starting November 30th — still volunteers his time in East Harlem as a tutor, even putting in the occasional middle-school performance. “I did some shows with my band, and the kids came and sang and danced with me onstage,” he says. “They knew the songs! It was amazing.”

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GQ Magazine – Review

New Pagan Love SongFIRST TAKE // Music
Album: ”New Pagan Love Song”
By Stephanie Davis

On his third album, Paul Brill stuffs in so many electronic and organic sounds – xylophone, strings instruments, cut-up beats – it’s surprising he has room for lyrics. And while the music is engrossing, it’s his sly, pretty voice and acidic take on life – that sucks you in. Cuts like “Weekday Bender” and “The Troubled Life of Herschel Grimes” are catchy enough to make popping pills and slapping people around sound like jolly undertakings,

…could have been the soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson film.

but Brill can also fall convincingly into a ballad like “Everything I Believe in,” which is slinkier and closer to a soppy Coldplay sound. Zooming in on life’s ironies and the futility of relationships, Pagan sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson film.

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Pitchfork Media

New Pagan Love SongAlbum: New Pagan Love Song
By Sam Ubl

Engaging piano pop balladry is a commodity rendered rare through excess. Considering the morass of feckless singer/songwriters, quality artists are like exotic treasures and their presence has been so marginalized that fans often lack the know-how to separate the grist from the mill. Some artists thrive on winsome personalities, cunningly distracting listeners from the music with their stylistic excess. They stand out like TV antennae in an electric storm, inviting critical rejection and the inevitable backlash of the fickle scenesters who often comprise their fanbase.

A demure opus that serves as a testament to the enduring potency of classical pop songwriting… virulently catchy…

But if the Ben Kwellers of the genre take the easy route to notoriety in an overpopulated field, where does that leave the Paul Brills? Brill is a harmless bloke– too good to be dragged down by his loudmouth peers and too modest to do anything about it. New Pagan Love Song is the New York-native’s third fulllength effort, but to most listeners it will serve as his introduction.

Coy artists such as Brill often suffer from the attention-grabbing exploits of their lesser contemporaries. But then, that’s their choice. As a member of the San Francisco-based Envelope, he endured the tension of a major-label bidding war, which wore on the band and ultimately led to their dissolution. In the years since, he’s helmed a formidable if not yet widely recognized solo career. For New Pagan Love Song, Brill also took the roles of producer and engineer, affording himself increased creative freedom. The result is a demure opus that serves as a testament to the enduring potency of classical pop songwriting. The album is like a montage of matchbook paintings, full of small treasures that by blinking you may risk missing.

The album shows a consistent affinity for time-tested techniques, but Brill isn’t afraid to capitalize on the expanded palette afforded by modern technology, dipping in electronic affectations that allow his abundant creativity to flourish. The liner notes even boast a “glitch guru,” Michael McKnight, who doubtless played a key role in making the stuttered beats. On the virulently-catchy “Comeback Kid”, a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot -style blend of electro-acoustic kitchen sink percussion pilots a bucolic array of instruments that includes banjo and pedal steel, while the saucy “Lay Down Your Weary Head” smacks of Portishead with its shuffling downtempo drumbeat and snappy upright bass groove.

Brill’s sound owes to a diverse set of forebears, but the composite typically falls somewhere between Elliott Smith and Grandaddy– influences he flaunts loudly on “Everything I Believe In”.

There, Brill sounds a lot like Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, delivers a wrenching vocal performance that he drapes gently and plaintively over a glitchy piano-based waltz. Hardly overwhelmed by its digital apparel, the song thrives on the sort of classical restraint that lent Smith’s songs timelessness. On “Weekday Bender” there are strains of Brendan Benson or Fountains of Wayne, while tracks like “Daylight Scars” and “Desert Song” reveal Brill’s fondness for electro-pop architects such as Lali Puna and Juana Molina.

New Pagan Love Song also carries a loose story line, tracing a confused, presumably amnesiac character through several episodes. For the most part, Brill’s storytelling is simplistic, and it offers enough ambiguity to foster multiple interpretations. But while understated to the point of being almost inconsequential, the lyrical content only impedes Brill’s defiantly traditionalist vibe. And as a result, New Pagan Love Song is a quiet accomplishment but an accomplishment nonetheless.

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Allmusic – Review

New Pagan Love SongEditor’s Choice
Artist Of The Week
4 1/2 Stars (out of 5)

Album: New Pagan Love Song
by Gregory McIntosh

Quick on the heels of his two 2003 releases, both titled Sisters (one an LP, one an EP), Paul Brill escaped to his studio and stayed there through the winter of ’03/’04 to sculpt New Pagan Love Song. By shutting himself in and playing the roles of engineer and producer, it is clear Brill afforded himself, in both time and money saved from camping out without hired guns, the room to experiment, twiddle knobs, and edit sounds together to explore a new direction. Toying with electronics and sequencing found sounds can be scary ground to tread, especially for an artist unfamiliar with the territory, considering overemphasizing of computerized clicks and whirs for the sake of texture has been a common pitfall for far too many, but Brill carries off his new direction with the presence of mind to keep it fairly subtle and never sacrificed his knack for engaging songwriting in the process.

One of the most compelling and stunning albums released in 2004.

There are some moments later on New Pagan Love Song where the pageantry of loops and electronic trials are more upfront, even the main source of propulsion, and credit must be given to Brill for both sequencing the album to ease the listener into the depths of his creativity and for always keeping the songs in the same sharp focus exhibited on his earlier records.

The introduction to Paul Brill’s new exploration is immediate. Opening with electric piano, vocals with a hefty serving of reverb/delay, and sparse, percussive electronic squiggles, “Trindade” introduces the intensity and precision of New Pagan Love Song and displays the fantastic understanding mixing engineer Nancy Hess has for sonic spatial relations. The entire album spins with this lucidity and feels truly three dimensional, transforming the reality of sound into an inviting, comfortable and intricate
museum of sound artifacts.

This musical exploration serves also as a parallel for Brill’s concept of the lyrical core: A story which spans the entire album via elegant wordplay and wisdom that weaves the tale of a troubled amnesiac coming to terms with the disturbing moral indignities and reckless behavior he does not remember committing, but which have landed him in his current situation. Brill is never heavy-handed while delivering this story, but instead he builds the scenario with indirect subtleties, leaving enough room to incorporate a cover of the Doors ‘ “Indian Summer,” though taken in the context of Brill’s concept, the lyrics present a much darker tone. In every area, New Pagan Love Song is an impressive step for Paul Brill.

The complex imagery and the breathing melodies that blanket the recording combined with the delicate mingling of acoustic and electronic sounds make New Pagan Love Song one of the most compelling and stunning albums released in 2004.

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