Singer-songwriter Brandon Wiard’s got a pop savant’s sensibility but shows enough breadth of imagination and balls to throw out the power pop rulebook before someone starts calling him the next Matthew Sweet. He opens with the quirky walloper “Already In Amazement” that sets you up for a frivolous poppy romp (it’s probably the “cello” and “Jell-O” rhyme that makes you think you’re gonna be able to finish all his sentences). But then frivolity goes out the window with the anthem “Miss Michigan,” the best song to give a hometown heads-up while ragging on the West Coast since “I Am I Said.”
For the next six tracks, Wiard wavers between Wilco and Weezer sensibilities, from the serious, strings-attached confessional “Caroline” to more Casiotone rock like “I’ll Write These Songs,” a note-perfect bubblegum “hit” written solely so he can watch some 17-year-old boogaloo, even if she misses all the pop culture references like Julius Caesar. The album’s best rocker, “KMS,” depicts a guy whose morning schedule revolves around the low-grade stalking of a female co-worker in an office building (“8:45, I’m walking out just as you are walking in.”) If there was any justice, this song would be blaring out of radios and blowing his cover right now.
Then something weird happens, Wiard surrenders lead vocals to a female guest voice (Kara Dupuy) for nearly two songs, the second being a bizarre four-section sea shanty that sounds as if They Might Be Giants tossed him a few “Dial-a-Songs” they weren’t using. And the album remains, with Wiard seemingly off his avant-garde gourd, mixing a great song about suicide (“Seeing You in No Time”) with a lot of flashbacks to earlier songs on the album, now done up with cellos, trumpets, sound effects and choirs (using a roundelay of Michigan indie stars). While most artists banish this kind of tinkering to the hidden track netherworld or side six of Sandinista, Wiard means these not as dubs but deliberate song collages that make the album seem more informed and of a piece the next time it comes around on the continuous play.
My guess is that Wiard live probably can’t always afford the violins and opera singers that give these tracks their subtle coloring and haunting beauty. But if people get wind of this shaky-voiced guy playing alone in some acoustic happy-hour hell, I believe they’ll take him at his word and grant his wish to be “the sugar in your coffee, the point of your jokes.” Catch him while he’s catchable.
Brandon Wiard performs at the Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668) on Tuesday, Oct. 19, with Fifth Period Fever.
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].