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“Back from the Brink” by Symphuddie

Symphuddie is no stranger to expression; he’s been living on the other side of the mainstream spectrum and putting his focus on the material and not the money end of the business. His work can best be described as evocative and effervescent at times, but in the new record to bear his moniker in the byline, Back from the Brink, he takes things a little further than a lot of his peers have gone before and rewards hardcore of eclectic pop with a sonic offering that lives up to the pedigree they’ve come to associate with an ever-evolving underground scene in general.

Back from the Brink features a diverse tracklist of several unique songs, each available in a standard and instrumental version, and all of the compositions show off a different element within Symphuddie’s sound. Though the eccentricities of “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and “This Fuse You Lit” at first seems a little self-indulgent next to more straightforward works like “The Rhythm of Life,” I think it’s clear we’re listening to an artist who wanted to push himself beyond where he’s normally been comfortable for this release. He’s unafraid of what’s awaiting him around the next bend; he’s throwing himself into passions his music is made of, which is more than I can say for a lot of other pop singer/songwriters this year.

Fearless arrangements in the instrumental versions of the tracks in Back from the Brink are essential to giving this LP its eclectic feel, but I’d point out now that Symphuddie at no point sounds like he’s just looking for a zany centerpiece to his latter discography here. There’s a lot of heart in the fabric of “Now That We Are Here” and “Step Out and Fall in This Love” that can’t coexist with the conventionally plasticized pop hooks a lot of us hear every day just commuting from the home to work and back; they need a special setting, and arguably one only an indie player can create.

There’s not too much of any one element in these songs, but rather a lot of liberal harmonies that take bits and pieces of different textures and tones from the instrumentation to form bands of melodic wonder as hypnotic as they are seemingly swollen. It takes some serious guts to make something as heavy as this record can be in an age that is celebrating minimalism like it’s going out of style, but Symphuddie makes it look and sound all too easy in this tight selection of songs.

I had anticipated liking this new work just based on reputation given how much cred this player has been building up with critics and audiences lately, but I didn’t expect to be as wowed by the diverse array of material contained with Back from the Brink and its rather short and simple tracklist. Symphuddie doesn’t care what anyone else in the pop genre is doing – he’s determined to carve out a path in these songs, and whether you usually go for alternative reggae-inspired songwriting or not, I think Back from the Brink is a record you need to hear for yourself to truly understand.

Cleopatra Patel

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