Lost At Sea

Bryan Master

Meteor Records, 2003


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The music business today is a notoriously difficult environment for pop-rock singer-songwriters not afflicted with the disease of fashion. The name of the game today is lowest common denominator, all the way, which leaves many a superbly talented composer/performer without a record deal. Think about it; Shawn Mullins, Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge have sold millions of units and earned the wide respect of their peers, but they were all without a record deal until they joined forces recently to record an album (due this summer) as The Thorns.

Fortunately, the Internet and the indie/d-i-y underground is able to keep resourceful artists like Bryan Master scratching out a living doing what they do best. Master, a young New York-based singer-songwriter, is possessed of obvious talent and an equally obvious disinclination to make least-common denominator pop music, placing him squarely on the Mullins-Sweet-Droge career track.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On his debut album Lost At Sea, Master's songs are presented like a series of little paintings, each with its own distinct palette and approach. One of the best is "737," a dreamy traveler's reverie that starts out acoustic and builds nicely with rich, precise electric chords. Another standout is the sparkling piano ballad "Bring Out The Stars," an artfully-drawn narrative of an "old-friend-in-town" date that simmers with conflicted subtext ("You bring out the best / You bring out the worst / You're from Venus and I am from Mars / Baby you bring out the stars").

Thinking like a major-label A&R guy, though, I have to zero in on "Reunion Of Sorts," just the kind of witty, catchy, stream-of-consciousness-over-rhythmic-acoustic-guitar gem that landed Shawn Mullins in the Top Ten. Indeed, its steady-building verses, beefed-up electric chorus and well-arranged harmony vocals make comparisons to "Lullabye" almost inevitable. Master shows commendably little interest in sticking to a formula, though; the minute "Reunion" fades out, you dive right into "Meteor(ite)," a sardonic skewering of celebrity culture with an edgy Elvis Costello vibe and numerous musical twists and turns.

Lost At Sea finds Master experimenting quite a bit, as a young artist should. And while his experiments aren't always successful -- in particular, I found his vocal affectations on tracks like "Meteor(ite)" and "Californ.I.A." less attractive than his normal, very expressive voice -- his stumbles are brief and considerably fewer than you might expect on a 25-year-old's self-published debut. His lyrics in particular show a lot of promise, decorated with striking images like "The baby blue tide on a surfer's silhouette / As the sun's about to set" and acerbic little asides like "I wish I didn't know me better."

The emergence of John Mayer suggests to some that a resurgence of popular interest in singer-songwriters is possible. Personally, I'm skeptical, especially given my view that Mayer's hit album was artistically compromised by its slick production. Regardless of what the future brings for the singer-songwriter genre as a whole, though, this smart, rangy debut marks Bryan Master as a talent to watch.

Rating: B+

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© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Meteor Records, and is used for informational purposes only.