My Colors Dark
published: 9 /
Ben Howarth refelcts upon Californian singer-songwriter Sean O'Brien's eighth solo album from last year, which is an enjoyable ride from power-pop to angsty punk.
In a songwriting career now spanning more than twenty five years, Sean O’ Brien has played with a number of California-based groups. But it is as a solo artist that he has become most prolific, with this being his eighth record under his own name.
‘My Colors Dark’ bursts straight out of the blocks with a quick drum beat and goes straight into the immediately infectious ‘Master of the Slow Burn’. It seems like a slightly misleading title, as this track is anything but a slow burn – two minutes of fuzzy, garage rock with a beat that goes straight to the toes.
The next track opens the ears a little wider, with an effective use of close-harmony vocals on a track that nods towards Big Star. This track hangs around a little longer, with a punchy riff temporarily breaking the early-70's vibe. But we are dragged straight further back into the mid-60s with ‘Hilarious’, which does a convincing pass at being a Gene Clark contribution to one of the early Byrds albums.
At this point the album opens out – ‘Kiss Full of Questions’ slows down and branches out with a combination of piano and guitar that reminds me of ‘Alladin Sane’-era Bowie, but that is just a warm up for the best track on the album, the piano-led ‘The Day You Own It’, which has a loose time signature and a hazy mood. It’s one Jeff Tweedy would have been happy to claim for a Wilco album. Very nearly as good is side one’s final track, ‘Down the Stairs’ a country-tinged duet with Laura Benitez a particularly effective change of pace into the chorus.
At this point, as you get up to the pop the vinyl over to side two, you might be thinking that there are lots of references to other, more famous rock stars. And indeed there are – but they are just subtle nods, signs that Sean O’Brien is someone with great taste who you want to spend some more time with. It also doesn’t hurt that his band is consistently tight – the drums and bass never show off, but there’s something they do on every track they do with appreciation.
The album continues and we are into post-punk territory for the start of side two – ‘Trying to Stop’ is a tightly played head-nodder that Husker Du would have been happy with and then it goes into the fuzzy riffs of first ‘Three Snakes Cought’, which just about gets away with its pastiche of nineties teenage angst and ‘Poor Gun Country’, a slightly tongue-in-cheek anti-gun culture song with a booming bass riff.
We then pull into the home straight with one of its catchiest songs, ‘Broken World’, before ending with the six-minute acoustic led ‘The Burden is Not Great’, a sincere reflection on #MeToo, garnished with an exceptional Knopfler-esque guitar solo that brings this record to a fitting close.
If Sean O’Brien’s genre-hopping potentially makes him potentially a challenge to market (I have no idea what Spotify’s algorhythm makes of him), it makes his album a rewarding listen. Never repeating itself, ‘My Colors Dark’ is a convincing and engaging listen from start to finish.