I picked up my first Brad Laner associated project album in 1993, that being Medicine’s The Buried Life. I was absolutely giddy at finding myself awash in a swell of guitars and dreamy, gauzy atmospheres akin to My Bloody Valentine. But Medicine had another layer, which was introspective pop accessibility, a la Brian Wilson. Laner’s vision continued over the years in projects I was either only later aware of, or completely clueless about. It’s not as if he disappeared, it’s just that Laner kept making his own brand of guitar psychedelia that stayed, to me, frustratingly obscure. I owned a copy of Lusk’s one and only release, it being recommended to me by CMJ, I’m sure. But I wasn’t yet aware of the fact that Laner was more than influential in their sound. You see, at the time, the press was all about the band having a former member of Tool. In that respect, Laner is like America’s version of Johnny Marr, though maybe not to that degree of famous. He’ll almost always be known as being a member of a band from his past, then bouncing from project to project until, respectively, Modest Mouse (we’ll see if that lasts) and a solo career. With Neighbor Singing, Brad Laner has finally melded together disparate influences and sounds into a musical stew of his own making. In other words, meet the real Brad Laner.
For probably the first time ever in Laner’s career, he has finally fully brought to the surface the ghosts of Los Angeles’ psychedelic past. “Find Out” plays like Love, the Grass Roots, the Beach Boys and the Doors, though with modern distorted vocal trickery and a thin layer of muslin draped over every note. “Out Cold,” the second track, shows more of the influence of Thom Monahan, more famously known as bearded impresario Devendra Banhart’s buddy. The song veers from Elliott Smith breathiness to Iron & Wine gothic folk bounce, and finally back to ’70s AM radio solo guitar. If there’s one thing to be said for every song as a whole entity, it is that Laner has injected each with his patented `last fluttering eyelid’ sense of dreaminess, as if each track is just on the verge of transporting the listener to a Yellow Submarine / Slumberland / Land of Chocolate world. “Lovely World,” as the perfect example, uses very little instrumentation other than percussion and psychedelic reverb to back Laner’s gauzy vocals.
“Arlie” is a track that is making its way around the net as a video and mp3, being one of the more gorgeous songs that Laner has ever written. I wonder if there’s a subconscious nod to Bacharach’s “Alfie,” as the song certainly has that morose, yet pretty Bacharach feel, although with a touch of “Pyramid Song” piano drama. “June Gloom” is another file making the internet rounds, incredibly highlighting Laner’s ability to meld those disparate influences. Imagine America all `shroomed’ up, trying to play “Ventura Highway” and having it turn out all Hendrixy and with a touch of Kevin Shields. “Sure” is probably one of the songs that will more remind fans of Medicine, with harmonic vocals and unrelenting pop mastery, besides having a title that sounds lifted from Loveless. One can argue that Laner saves one of the best songs for last with “Circumscribe,” another one of those tracks that can’t be confused for anyone other than Laner, fuzzy guitars, hushed singing, and a blend of sixties organics with modern programming.
Brad Laner, despite a career spent mostly below the radar and the last few years off to raise a kid, will probably continue to make music for the rest of his life. I’m not sure that it even matters to him if people hear it or not. It seems apparent that he wears his influences on his sleeve, plays what he wants to play, guides his own music into places where it pleases him above everyone else, and leaves it at that. Truth be told, that’s from where the best art generally comes. Consider this one another coup for the Southern based Hometapes label.