Brad Laner: Playing on Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a new feature on KCRW’s Music Blog where writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers this week.

(Editor’s Note: Today’s featured artist also happens to be local! Brad Laner is based in Granada Hills. His new album “Natural Selections” is out tomorrow, August 24 on Hometapes)

Natural Selections Cover Art
Natural Selections Cover Art

Think for a moment about popular parent musicians. Madonna and Bono. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Big Boi and Common. How are they different than popular non-parent musicians? Hardly, right? They’re still impossibly cool, recording and touring consistently and, most important, look pretty … well-rested (at least in photos). In fact, they still seem like other celebrities — just with their own families.

As most “regular” parents know, a large part of transitioning from single to family life involves shifting large chunks of responsibility, resources and time. Yet, aside from the occasional song about parental love or a public appearance with progeny, popular music culture otherwise treats the parenthood experience as just another box to check off.

Which is one way of saying Brad Laner is the rare exception to the rule.

Laner is a critical rock god with his share of rockist-friendly experiences and groups — from seminal “post-rock” (Savage Republic), to “shoegaze” (Medicine), to “electronic” (Electric Company) – listed on a c.v. that stretches over two decades.

When he started a family in the mid-’00s, he made many of the same adjustments that other young families have to make. But in the process he began an antiquated yet
resonating new phase in his career: He began to make records solely at home. No touring. No extensive social media marketing campaign. And not even quick, efficient recording; he has produced two albums in the last seven years. Laner is just recording music in his spare time.

The only difference is his “hobby” makes a beautiful noise that will make a lot of grown adults swoon at home or in the car.

Laner in his “solo period” (his 2007 album, “Neighbor Singing,” was his first to be released sans moniker) filters elements from his past work. The inverted song structures, waves of guitars and extensive editing are all still there; the descriptor “psych-pop” comes up fairly often in reviews. What is more fascinating than the question of how to label his music is the deliberate yet inspiring nature of his process. By diligently writing, recording and producing in gradual increments, he maintains his link to the music community.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/13470805[/vimeo]

Considering the stretch of time he now has to spend on his music, his arrangements are fittingly dense and well-worked; his music is often characterized by layers of everything from voices and guitars to indescribable noises. Ironically he is also making some of the most accessible music of his career. “Eyes Close,” from his recently released “Natural Selections,” starts and stops with Grizzly Bear-like drama yet conjures classic Beatles guitar, Mellotron and vocal parts. The infinite guitars on “Brain” rock and swirl like his early-’90s heyday with Medicine, but his voice carries the more interesting melodic twists. And “Runner” demonstrates his remarkable ability to avoid potential tunnel vision; he constantly stops and starts a work in progress yet consistently pulls out strong melodic hooks.

In many ways Laner seems like the odd-man-out in today’s rock world. You’re more likely to see him at one of his son’s parties than performing a show. His name and music aren’t being pushed on you daily. To his credit, he has a Tumblr blog. And he puts in his fair share of dad work. But isn’t that different enough to be cool? We at Prefix think so.

—  Dan Nishimoto

Natural Selections Track Listing

1. Eyes Close
2. Throat
3. Lancaster
4. Crawl Back In
5. Magnolia Doubles
6. Brain
7. Why Did I Do It
8. Dirty Bugs
9. Vicky
10. Runner
11. Little Death