CD Review of The Shredding Tears by Bryan Scary

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The Shredding Tears
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Black and Greene Records
Released: 2007
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Music, after all, is a form of entertainment. One of the performing arts. Rock and roll – in all its different guises and permutations – is no different, and has always been as much about the sound of the music itself to the presentation of that music. From Elvis’ swiveling hips to the Who destroying their instruments to the White Stripes' visual theme of red, white and black, every act has its shtick. For some bands, the shtick might be nothing more than the image they project. The Rolling Stones, for instance, always exuded such a sense of cool -- a quiet, smoldering sensuality reinforced by their music -- that they really didn’t need any act, per se.

For some, though, the music and the presentation are virtually inseparable. You can go all the way back to 1957 and find Screamin’ Jay Hawkins rising out of a coffin and lumbering around in a cape with a skull on a stick and tusks in his nose shouting “I Put a Spell On You” as evidence. By the late ‘60s, rock music was awash in concept albums, and Alice Cooper upped the ante in the mid ‘70s with his theatrical stage show, propping up his music with storylines, props, sets, characters and the like.

Orchestration doesn’t have to mean an elaborate stage show, though. A complex song arrangement with many different sections, instruments and recurring parts can convey a sense of theatrics as well as any visuals. The Beatles (of course) first mastered this kind of frock as audio-theatre. So did the Kinks. The Beach Boys (on Pet Sounds). Queen. Frank Zappa. David Bowie. Todd Rundgren. ELO. XTC. More recently, the Dresden Dolls. All of which leads us to Bryan Scary.

The Shredding Tears was actually released last October. Other than landing on a handful of hipster’s “Best of ‘06” lists, it hasn’t gotten much recognition. Composed almost entirely by the 23-year-old Scary in his Brooklyn apartment (apart from the drums, Scary apparently wrote, sings and plays all the instruments on every song on the album), you can’t help making musical comparisons as you listen. Scary wears his influences on his sleeve, and that’s just fine: he’s an obviously talented musician, and the mostly piano-led songs are all very well written and boast pretty amazing arrangements (and a few catchy melodies to boot, something that’s getting pretty rare in rock music these days).

Rather than Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – a comparison made in more than a few reviews – The Shredding Tears comes off much more like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (without the Martian component). Sophisticated, orchestral pop-rock, the tale loosely chronicles the day-to-day life of a rising rock band, and we meet some interesting characters, get into some weird situations, and get exposed to some exotic lifestyles along the way. You can tell Scary is (was?) an NYU film student by listening to the several mini-acts of “The Little Engine Who Couldn't (Think Straight)” or “Operaland.” “The Ceiling on the Wall” is pure ELO. “The Blood Club” is the hit in this collection, boasting a more straightforward arrangement (i.e., less orchestrated) and lyrics that are less oblique (i.e., less bizarre) than most of the other tunes on the album.

If your tastes run toward undemanding, clear-cut rock music, this stuff probably isn’t for you. If you like a bit more performance with your pop art, and can appreciate a bit of camp or cabaret at the same time (say, fans of the Dresden Dolls, World/Inferno Friendship Society, the Polyphonic Spree, Rasputina, Gogol Bordello…not to mention Beatles, Kinks, Bowie, Queen or ELO), Bryan Scary’s The Shredding Tears will fit right in.

~Una Persson