While the debate over Beyoncé bringing back ’90s dance music has raged for nearly a month on the internet, musician/singer Brijean Murphy and multi-instrumentalist/producer Doug Stuart have been quietly blending indie-pop, tropicália expansiveness, house music posture, and ’70s mellow disco flair for three years and counting. We’re talking like a finger in front of their mouth kind of silence. Since their debut Walkie Talkie and follow-up Feelings last year, this duo comprising a former “freelance percussionist” and jazz musician have occasionally rippled through ’90s house, but they enrich it.
Metric range that is informed, not recycled. They switch the climates, and Murphy draws you into a corner where you have no option except to melt or sway from that most peaceful latitude she holds. You may use the S-word in band comparisons if you want, but Stereolab, as amazing as they are (and they are significant for many reasons), seems restricted by definition. Isn’t it crazy? So are the many rehearsal jam partners Brijean has formed friendships within the Bay Area over the years, including Chaz Bear, bandleader of Toro Y Moi, Poolside, and US Girls.
Brijean’s new EP, Angelo, out Friday via Ghostly International, is their third release since Beychella congregated in “Formation” and marched all over that festival in the desert (why would you go to the desert to hear music, it’s pretty hot there right?) in 2019.
Angelo, named after an automobile, has nine tracks that Brijean has given life to while in return the music has helped them retain their balance. While in motion, the two have been coping with loss. With the lack of touring and the abrupt loss of Murphy’s father and both of Stuart’s parents, the months leading up to the lauded release of Feelings, their full-length Ghostly International debut in 2021 that embraced gentle self-reflection and fresh possibilities, was heartbreaking. In a state of grief, the couple fled the Bay Area to be closer to family, relocating to four places in less than two years. Their portable studio became their home studio, and these tunes, along with Angelo, were one of the few constants in their lives. Whereas Feelings developed through collaborative jam sessions with friends, Angelo’s sessions stripped Murphy and Stuart bare, leaving them to ponder, what’s left inside?
Angelo, the automobile they named the album after, is a 1981 Toyota Celica purchased off Craigslist during Murphy and Stuart’s initial stint in Los Angeles, where they have subsequently resided.
“Such a bro-y, ‘80s dude car, it’s been super fun to drive around in a new town,” Murphy said previously. “He’s older than us, he’s a classic, he’s got a story.”
So does Brijean. And we were lucky to talk with them.
Treble: Your music is so vast, containing multiple vibes and sounds, so many things but still easily identifiable. Disco, house, pop, Latin jazz….I even saw a reviewer describe your song “Ocean” from the Feelings EP as having major “Vangelis vibes.” Kinda bummed I didn’t come up with that one.
Brijean is so many things but still identifiable. That’s a difficult talent to master. How did the Brijean project come about?
Brijean Murphy: Doug and I had been dating for a couple of years. We found ourselves touring on opposite schedules for about three years and seeing each other only a couple of months out of the year. I wanted to put my voice to a project and he was exploring production… so it all kinda fit into place. We were able to share the project and some more life together.
Treble: How would you describe your sound?
BM: Well. I’m witnessing its growth and flexibility at the moment and am excited about that—especially because I’ve yet to understand how this project and my own songwriting can be expressed. I do think our influences and sound comes from jazz, house, dance, dream pop, exotica, and modern psychedelic realms. I grew up as a percussionist, listening to salsa and Latin jazz that my dad (who was a percussionist) would always play at the house. My knee-jerk reaction is to make any song percussive, which I think strikes a balance with Doug’s melodic sensibilities. He’s smart and kind and trained in Jazz, but stretches in a lot of directions.
Treble: Your singing and lyrics always sound and feel like a private, personal conversation. Is that intentional?
BM: I’ve never thought of it that way, but I love that.
Treble: How difficult was it to see so much positive energy come from Feelings EP while you both were going through such hardships? Sort of a dual existence.
BM: It felt surreal and wonderful to witness that positivity and support around the Feelings album. It came at a time for us when we felt the extremities of life and loss. So any tap of love and positivity is always embraced.
Treble: How did it feel making this EP, Angelo, without having the Bay Area community of musicians to jam with (Toro Y Moi, Poolside, US Girls), instead just the two of you. Did you find something new?
BM: It’s pretty much all new for us. I’ve been a freelance percussionist for most of my musical career and this project is the first that prioritizes my creative liberty and songwriting. Doug and I have a great flow together and we have fun writing and playing—I think the intimacy of these recordings has brought out new expressions that had yet to be explored.
Treble: I think I noticed some of your artwork at Outside Lands last year. It was a lovely surprise. I’m always looking forward to seeing these characters you sing about come to life through illustrations. Has music and making images always been present in your creative life?
BM: In a way, yes! I started drawing as a kid, inspired by Daria, The Yellow Submarine, cartoons mainly- and once I began playing in bands I made flyers and posters for the shows, that’s really when I developed my visual style. From there I began muralism—illustrating / designing/painting / directing animated music videos. That’s so awesome you saw that stage design at Outside Lands! That project was super special and fun. I’ve also made the visuals (single and album art) for this new EP.
Treble: Who are some artists you are listening to these days?
BM: Doug isn’t here at the moment but I feel confident in saying that some of the summer artists in heavy rotation are: Dijon, Beck, Sessa, and Steve Lacy. My rotation right now is: Emile Mosseri “You’ve Got That Cowboy Spark,” Stefano Torossi “Running Fast,” Jim Sullivan “U.F.O.,” Tokischa “Tunkuntazo,” Alice Phoebe Lou “Dirty Mouth”, Susumu Yokota “Long Long Silk Bridge”
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John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.