maverick ˈmav(ə)rɪk/ nounan unorthodox or independent-minded person.“he’s the maverick of the senate”
synonyms: individualist, nonconformist, free spirit, unorthodox person,unconventional person, original, trendsetter, bohemian, eccentric,outsider;rebel, dissenter, dissident;informal – bad boy“he was too much of a maverick to fit into any formal organization”
When listening to the new Stanley Brinks record one word kept popping into our head: maverick. There’s just something about Stanley‘s work that seems so wonderfully out of kilter with the modern world; his music near unclassifiable, his career path unconventional, his work more in tune with a series of music’s most eccentric outsiders than it is any of his contemporaries.
From Daniel Johnston to Thomas Truax, The Shaggs to Captain Beefheart, there have always been musicians who were willing to go entirely against the grain of musical trends and achieve both a sense of timelessness and a sound entirely their own.
Tom Waits reinvented what it was to be a singer-songwriter and made percussion out of bones, Frank Zappa took influence from TV jingles, classical music and the blues and produced music more eccentric and varied than anyone had ever previously heard, and Bjork blurred the lines between music, performance and art and made albums that went from entirely acapella albums to Biophilia, a sort of hybrid scientific musical, app album and education program.
These mavericks are some of the most important people for musical progression: they are the people who are able to look at what music is, and more importantly what it can be. They seem to be able to look beyond what exists and create something stunningly unique, and long may they and their legacy of exploration continue.
Stanley Brinks was born in Paris in 1973, which seems a sensible place to start this review, because this is an album that can only be produced by someone with a life well led. Half-Swedish, half-Moroccan, Stanley has for a long time now lived the life of a traveller. In the late 1990’s he formed Herman Düne, under the name André Herman Düne, and toured the world, he became fascinated with New York and lived there for a while. Herman Düne toured Europe a lot, he settled in Berlin, as well as at times basing himself in Malta and San Francisco. As well as seeing most of the world, he has also released a frankly remarkable number of albums, estimates suggest well in excess of one hundred.
It should probably come as no surprise then, that large swathes of My Ass, his latest album, are explorations on travel, touring and arguably never quite belonging anywhere. My Ass is Stanley’s fourth album recorded alongside his now regular collaborators, and touring band, The Wave Pictures; possibly one of the few bands who can come close to matching Stanley‘s own productivity, which is lucky, seeing as the story of the recording of My Ass starts with Stanley, not wanting to lose any of the, “fire still burning in their hearts from the final night’s drinks”, dragging The Wave Pictures into the recording studio, bright and early the morning after they finished touring the previous record, 2014’s Gin. Three days later, My Ass was recorded, and The Wave Pictures could finally have a rest, whilst presumably Stanley started working on another album!
Whilst it might not be the conventional way to set about recording an album, it certainly seems to have injected the record with both a communal, sing-along atmosphere and the playful musical meanderings of being lubricated with just the right amount of gin and tonics. The thing about having written over one hundred albums is that it can be hard to justify what makes this record any more worthwhile than the ones that came before it, why is My Ass worth listening to if you’ve already heard Gin or Pizza Expresso, his excellent collaboration with French-singer Freschard?
Luckily for Stanley, he has perfected the art of moving his recordings forward at just the right pace, whilst there’s no huge departure in sound here, there’s enough new ideas to keep it fresh and interesting. The other undeniable quality of this record is that it sounds like it was incredibly fun to make. The majority of the tracks feature a delightfully ramshackle choir of voices, Stanley & The Wave Pictures joined by producer Simon Trought, singers Allison Murphy, Tasha Vorontsova and Freschard, and by the sound of it basically anyone who wandered in who had either a voicebox or anything resembling an instrument. The resulting record is a sort of gloriously, free-form, jazz, calypso, folk-pop mess; ridiculous and brilliant in equal measures.
The travels discussed couldn’t be much more varied, we find Stanley in Berlin, where, “in the bars they’re aloof but they keep an open mind, smoke inside and drink outside”, in Brighton “watching the birds fly over the West Pier”, in Balutta Bay on, “the island of honey” that is Malta, and arguably most surprisingly of all in Wakefield! Each place is soundtracked by something completely different, Berlin is a Bowie-inspired glam-stomper, Brighton sounds like the middle ground of mods and T-Rex, Balutta Bay sounds content, all muted and minimal whist, and Wakefield, for reasons best known to Stanley, sounds like a 1930’s silent film, resplendent with yackety sax: it’s no side of Wakefield we’ve ever seen, but Stanley does seem to see the world with his eyes wide open, ready to love the many places he travels.
One of the most intriguing facets of this album, is that behind all the odd-ball eccentricities and idiosyncratic musings, there’s actually a decent whack of genuine emotion tucked away on this record. Brighton might contain the awkward rhyming of, “what’s up” and “chips and ketchup”, but there’s also the emotive plea, “don’t let me spend the night alone, right above the funeral home, I need company at night, like I need tobacco in my pipe”. Love Me Too, may have the chorus of a classic love song, but in the line, “I should have put myself in your shoes, but instead I put my boot in it”, there’s the unshakeable feeling that this is an opportunity for love that has been missed. Probably the most heartbreaking is Run Along, from the opening line, “tell me that you love me if you think you do, but don’t tell me if you know it’s not true”, through to his realisation, “I like your company but I wouldn’t want to keep you where you don’t want to be, in the palm of my hand like King Fucking Kong”, it’s a track that’s laced with a raw sort of sadness, ending at the start of, “a beautiful night” where he can only “see the tears at the end of the song”.
My Ass is an album that can be touching and silly, amusing and heartbreaking. An album loosely themed around the open-road, but one that always comes back to the fact no matter where you find yourself, it’s people, not locations that leave their indelible mark on your journey. Ultimately, My Ass is a celebration of people; the ones we left behind, the ones we go back to, and the ones we’re going to meet along the way. One hundred albums and counting, and remarkably Stanley Brinks still finds something new to say, bring on the next hundred.
My Ass is out now on Fika Recordings.