Every review of this album starts the same way: “As one-third of the New York Europop trio Ivy … .” I’m not even Andy Chase and I’m sick of reading that. Yes, his “day job” band has been pretty influential in expanding the borders of atmospheric pop, but his new side project Brookville’s current release, Wonderfully Nothing, is the real reason we’re here today.
Why start a side project? Displeasure with current musical project, a need to begin a solo career without sacrificing the safety net, a desire to expand one’s palette of influences … the reasons are as varied as the number of people who start them.
In this case, his Ivy cohort Adam Schlesinger was busy with Fountains of Wayne, freeing Chase to complete a project that had been in the works for some years.
Generally, the longer a record takes to finish, the more chance it has of sucking when it’s finally released. This is why no one really hopes that Axl Rose finishes the next GnR album. But Wonderfully Nothing triumphs over that curse: the extra time spent in the studio only enhances the overall feel of the album, a slightly melancholy reflection on life told through sonic vignettes.
The album features a variety of guest collaborators, including They Might Be Giants bassist Danny Weinkauf, Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, and minor, but no less important, contributors to the lush popscape canon, including Jon Skibic of Gigolo Aunts and Jean-Pierre Ensuque of Autour de Lucie.
Chase is clearly a studio rat; Wonderfully Nothing could very well have been a senior project in audio engineering with ProTools. But Chase doesn’t sacrifice soul for cleverness. For every artful pan or sweep, he comes back with jazz-influenced harmonics or breathy summer-pop vocals. The result is a record that’s not a huge stylistic departure; some of the material on the album just as easily could have been placed on an Ivy record. Soft, muted soundscapes nestle alongside elements of trip-hop, bringing to mind comparisons to Air, Saint Etienne and the studio pop of the 1960s. Chase’s work also calls to mind that of another arist obsessed with the studio: Shuggie Otis. The comparisons between Otis’ 1974 Inspiration Information and Wonderfully Nothing are too good to pass up.
Like Otis, Chase obviously spent a long time figuring out exactly what he wanted these songs to sound like. In particular, the third cut off the album, “Sample From Heaven,” reveals the depth of his influences: Chase uses a musical phrase from Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral, while also taking notes from Violator-era Depeche Mode. As if those influences weren’t enough, the song is loosely based on a composition by the late, great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, who receives one-third of the writing credit.
Though the lyrics are solid throughout, the texture and sound of the songs reveal how Chase has matured as both an arranger and a musician. He’s been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t. He’s a firsthand witness to the life of a rock ‘n’ roll nomad (he even lived in Manchester during the Happy Mondays/Stone Roses-era), and Brookville is an able vehicle for him to pilot through his observations. Streaked with imagination and care throughout, Wonderfully Nothing is wonderfully something.