A Little Night Music, the second solo collection of songs from Jonathan Bree, is an unusual but compelling collection that somehow works better than you might expect when you look at its disparate ingredients.
As many of you will know, Bree’s old band, The Brunettes, favored a kind of music that yoked together an ironic indie sensibility with a hook-laden quality verging on bubblegum. In many respects, A Little Night Music is pretty remote from that kind of musical landscape. For one thing, the atmosphere of this collection is considerably more moody, largely due to ALNM’s Lee Hazlewood-like penchant for stinging lyrics thinly disguised by crooning vocals. Also contributing to the darker textures of this album are its distinctive orchestral styling that will inevitably recall Scott Walker for many listeners. Compared to the dense orchestral arrangements that one hears on some of Walker’s records, though, on ALNM we encounter a more sparse and spooky use of the orchestral palette.
Drama on a Budget
These elements give us a quasi-orchestral album that has clearly been put together without breaking the bank. While ALNM was being prepared and recorded, Bree listened to a lot of the classical repertoire, which left a mark on his own writing. His version of orchestral scoring is more low-key and rougher edged than his classical mentors might have opted for, though, and this more tempered use of orchestration is one of the trademarks of ALNM. Above all else, Bree’s stripped-down approach to recording lends a more human scale and a deeper emotional resonance to this album than might otherwise have been possible.
It is striking that a collection that largely works without the traditional elements of R&B and indie succeeds so well on its own terms. It’s not only the orchestration that is given a low-key spin, either, since Bree’s lyrics tend to focus on deceptively trivial or mundane details in a way that somehow maintains quality and purpose. Speaking of purpose, ALNM is also distinguished by Bree’s ability to articulate moral anger within an amusing and listenable context.