Trip hop duo Brash Flair is comprised of vocalist Kristin Johnston and multi-instrumentalist Joshua Wentz. They’ve been singing together since high school after which they teamed up to combine downtempo electronica, soulful vocals, and uncommon structures. Their most recent EP Two was released April 1st. Somehow, though there are only five songs on this EP, Brash Flair have managed to create a gorgeous collection of thoughts and movement that feels vast and exploratory.
My immediate thought was that they sounded a bit like Tricky or Massive Attack but with more classical/traditional structures. I was surprised and a bit delighted by the carefully placed, modest bongo beats and a soft, ascending xylophone. Those are not sounds that are easy to use without coming off as comedic or overwhelming. In slower songs like “Sleeping” and “Good Morning” the emphasis is on the vocals which keep up a steady balance of emotion and ethereality. Johnston is a soprano, but she sings more like a jazz or hip hop vocalist than a classical one. This really picks up the downtempo, especially on tracks like “Ready,” which combines a strong hip hop melody with frantic electronic fluttering, complementary piano, and quick and simple guitar strumming.
A lot of these tracks are pretty complicated. They take unique structures and warp them into something palatable, thought-provoking, and often moving. The credit here may be to Wentz’s study of architecture. The songs are experimental in the way they push at the limits of a genre like trip hop. Johnston’s vocals can be unexpectedly atypical in certain sections, particularly on “Blanket of Blue” where she ranges from jazzy to sort of flat and wondering. Fans of these genres may find themselves utterly entranced by the rhythmic patterns on this album.
As far as the meaning behind these five tracks: they seemed, to me, to exploring human autonomy. How much is a person truly able to move and affect the world and others around them? It’s easy to mistake a lot of the songs as being about love because of the tone of Johnston’s sensuous vocals, but I would argue that a larger interior exploration is going on, even in songs like “Good Morning,” which is more layered than it first sounds.
The lead single from this EP, “Your Line,” makes good on the danceable feeling hinted at in promising electronic snippets within “Good Morning.” The rhythm explores different worldly schools, especially Latin, with a house follow-through that rings almost incongruous. This complicated beat is the real focus of the song, wildly different from the other tracks. Johnston’s vocals are cut up into more rhythmic sounds which creates a very produced vibe. Though this treatment obscures most discernable lyrics, she seems to be talking about possession, repeating a word which could be “mine,” “mind,” or “line”. I love that this isn’t clear because it asks the listener to think about all three of those terms and how they relate to each other. There’s something questioning in the lyrics throughout which leads me to think about ownership – who owns the “mind” or “line?”
This album is more than worth the listen for its varying rhythmic structures, emotive themes, and the way it plays with voice. Johnston and Wentz have really taken collaborating seriously. Listen to their EP Two below: