Brijean Murphy’s life was already under great emotional renovation when she began recording a new album. Working toward greater self-love and self-nurturing, she turned the smaller, foundational building blocks of that practice into songs – alongside collaborator Doug Stuart – for her eponymous creative endeavor Brijean. The Oakland-based duo’s latest album, Feelings, released February 26 via Ghostly International, melted from her fingertips, marking a newfound trust in herself as both an active songwriter for the project, and the one behind the microphone.
Murphy says she found a kind of unruly freedom in owning the spotlight. “Once I started to sing on my own project, it felt really good – like home. It’s my own thoughts and expression, and I didn’t have to title that to meet somebody else’s voice or ideas,” she tells Audiofemme. “In the past, I would sing with friends at late-night parties and mess around. But I never had formal vocal training and never really sang out with people until very recently when I was a hired percussionist for tours.”
In previous creative pursuits, most notably as an in-demand percussionist who’s worked with bands like U.S. Girls and Toro Y Moi, Murphy feels her way around soul-tingling soundscapes that give her agency over her own voice and songwriting talents. “I’m definitely growing a lot,” she says. Where the duo’s 2019 EP, Walkie Talkie, was more intimate, Feelings sees them “involve more people” in the process. “With this album, we had more of our community involved. It felt really nice and important to me,” she adds. “I’m so community-centered. Those sounds stretched our compositions in a nice way.”
Much of the album centers on uncovering equilibrium in life, or, as Murphy puts it on Brijean’s Bandcamp, “romancing the psyche.” As it relates to songwriting, much of her work lives between two worlds: love songs and stream of consciousness. “For love songs, I think about how I can be writing it to myself instead of it being an outward love for another person,” she says. As such, she nosedives into the rejuvenating waters of “how to feel good and how to nurture my own self” ─ most prominent in songs like “Ocean.”
“This is one of the more significant songs for me ─ as a songwriter, vocalist, and musician. I felt like I stretched in this song. The vocal arrangements were something new for me,” she says. On “Ocean,” she plays all the drums and percussion, and even had a chance to try out some “really beautiful temple blocks.” These elements, including some new bells and a triangle, elevate Murphy’s probing lyrics. “It felt more like a story than some of the other songs,” she continues, “and it feels like an arrival for me, personally.”
“In this gentle space, we lay/Calming when I hear you say,” she sings, almost inviting the listener to enjoy her musical trance. “I want to be inside your ocean/I want to see what there could be.”
“Softened Thoughts” arrives as a shape-shifting musical gem, almost otherworldly in the way Murphy calls back to a childhood memory to nail the song in place. “I kept having this daydream about one of my honorary aunts, one of my dad’s best friends, who helped raise me. I thought about a story when me, her, and my dad went to Hawaii when I was two, maybe two and a half. They took me to this volcano. My dad said he held me over the volcano and that I freaked out, and my aunt Jill chilled me out. Then, the rest of the days we just went to the beach and soaked in the sun. To this day, my dad is always like ‘I can’t believe you don’t remember that.’ I’m like ‘I was… two.’ When they tell this story, they just crack up.”
Feelings is pieced together with two interludes, “Pepe,” a nod to drummer Pepe Jacobo, and “Chester,” a sharply-attentive cat that lived at the Big Sur home where the album was recorded. “Oftentimes, Doug and I like to listen to the songs we started and then continue the thought,” Murphy says. “We usually make an interlude per song if it doesn’t flow directly into another song. I adore and respect Pepe so much. It felt like it fit with the album, thematically.”
Joined by musicians Chaz Bear, Tony Peppers, and Hamir Atwal, Brijean capture the human experience in the throes of remarkable transformation, incorporating elements of jazz, tropicalia, and soul. These eleven songs rise and fall in an enveloping, therapeutic way, conceived, as they were, by a group of people exploring a vibe and developing it into song. In a time when real human connections are few and far between, Feelings translates “some of the magic” of live performance and “the feeling of playing with people you love ─ as opposed to me playing all the instruments in one room,” Murphy says. Though the album was initially driven by Murphy’s steps toward musical autonomy, Feelings ultimately invites listeners right into Brijean’s groovy realm.