The concept of the Englishman in New York is almost as old as rock itself. A long list from John Lennon to Sting have made the Big Apple a first or second home. Usually settling in Manhattan, they brought a bit of their English past to their new digs.
Brooklyn might just be the new Manhattan. Parts of it have become the trendy poster blocks of gentrification. Like Greenwich Village decades ago, Brooklyn is attracting artists and musicians by the Uber load. British singer songwriter Findlay Brown is just one part of what makes Brooklyn so cool now.
Findlay Brown is undoubtedly one of the area’s best up and coming folk-pop stars. The combination of Anglo-American influences (not based on R&B) makes Brown’s music somewhat unique and refreshing. Finally a great folk/pop artist from England who’s not trying to be soulful for soul’s sake.
Brown does not try to replicate an American sound from a British perspective like many do with their impressions of American soul. Instead he uses the universal wonder of childhood from his upbringing in Yorkshire and couples that with present day indie rock swagger. That combination along with the influence of singer-songwriters of the ’70s, makes Brown part of a small wave of new pop-folk artists that include Alberta Cross and James Yorkston. Brown however may be one of the greatest song writers out of Yorkshire lately if not England.
The inspiration behind the songwriting creates a mix that is intoxicating. Brown creates a more sharp than hazy dreamworld thanks to the use of gentle strings. Its a world that is both nostalgic and rooted in post modern song writing. Musically, the arrangements on Brown’s second album Slow Light are mostly his emotive voice, acoustic guitar with subtle distortions and electronic treatments.
Brown’s voice recalls the warm feel of the ’70s singer song writers. Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkle in particular come to mind. Other broader yet vague influences make Slow Light a bit harder to peg than in some of his earlier music. That’s a good thing because it sounds original.
Where a trend of ironic humor and sarcasm ( Father John Misty or John Grant) had become popular recently, it’s refreshing to hear folk influenced pop songs that reflect child-like optimism. Lyrics steeped in metaphor, keeps it from getting too simple or one dimensional as pop music tends to be.
Slow Light has a few cheeky uptempo numbers, but the album really excels when Brown is in ballad or love song mode. “All is Love” and “Alone Again” were some 2015’s most beautiful love songs. Hearing them only illustrates how internet distribution still fails small artists in getting their music heard. Word of mouth has been Findlay Brown’s most effective marketing tool. How else could I explain discovering an album this good almost a year after it’s release.
Brown’s voice has a nostalgic feel to it but never sounds old. This collection of songs, including a few short instrumentals contain timeless elements of melody and rhythm made with various string instruments and keyboards. The occasional use of electronic elements like on “Born of the Stars” and the short Phillip Glass-like instrumental that follows adds just enough of a hint of now to suggest that this recording was not made in 1974.
I don’t doubt that in 30 years much of Slow Light will sound as fresh as anything from Nick Drake and his best contemporaries. Once again the simple arrangements help make this music timeless, even if I was late to discovering it.