The Passion according to John R. Brusseau

The Passion according to John R. Brusseau

John R. Brusseau. Photo courtesy of ULYSSA.

 

Discover Blogly is The FADER’s curated roundup of our favorite new music discoveries.

At first glance, John R. Brusseau is an internet ironist’s dream. A 66-year-old Christian blogger-singer-songwriter from the small town of Priceville Alabama, Brusseau cuts a figure familiar to anyone who has spent time in the depths of YouTube, where senior citizens sing silly songs over schlocky backing tracks for double-digit view counts. But Brusseau is not one of these characters; his music contains multitudes, his lyrics the work of a man who’s spent his 66 years in search of life’s meaning, not fleeting fame.

Everybody Gets What They Want: The Gospel of John R. Brusseau was released in June on ULYSSA, the chronically online tape label that has sent dozens of projects by outsider artists into the world. The project, its cover fashioned in the unhinged new-age format of a Dr. Bronner’s label, is a selection of 17 tracks pulled from the 26-odd albums Brusseau quietly self-released on Spotify, according to the label. Look closely at the art to read passages from the theological essays Brusseau posted to his blog, The Priceville Times, before wiping them from the internet in the not-so-distant past.

It’s fair to say that Brusseau’s music shares superficial similarities with that of his cartoonish contemporaries. Built on direct-in guitar, crude drum plugins, and keyboard synth presets, his instrumentals on their own wouldn’t sound out of place on hold with customer service or in a late-night infomercial — or, more accurately, an Adult Swim parody of said advertisement. But his strength as an artist, the essence of what separates him from the avuncular YouTube chaff, comes from a part of the brain far less concerned with aesthetics than with the essence of the human experience.

EVERYBODY GETS WHAT THEY WANT: The Gospel of John R. Brusseau by John R. Brusseau

Everybody Gets What They Want opens on new age muzak chords slowed to a pace somewhere between a limp and a crawl. But when Brusseau’s voice enters just ahead of the 30-second mark, the shades are pulled back on a bright, beatific world. “Houses stand and smile, faces toward the rays,” he sings. “The streets, the sidewalks run, laughing toward the sun’s parade.” It’s a uniformly happy song, and yet, as Brusseau repeats its two eight-bar verses in his raw, slightly gravelly croon, a strained undercurrent sweeps in.

Brusseau is a devout Christian, and his belief in the God of the New Testament echoes through Everybody Gets What They Want. “God gives the power, Jesus gives the key / Acts of… chaos are a part of harmony,” he intones on the album’s second, title track above a plucked string synth’s major pentatonic scale and a minimal drumline led by lightly tonal plinks. The song’s titular refrain acts as a sort of grounding mantra as Brusseau dives deeper into the latter statement, explaining that “Satan and his kingdom are just another tool,” and that “all things work together in the ones who dare to scope out God.” Again, though, the repeated assertion of the track’s positive central message belies a pained uncertainty — the great doubt that weighs on anyone who grapples earnestly with the great beyond.

The source of the tension between Brusseau and his Creator comes into focus on tracks like “Floriduh,” in which he airs his hatred of rightwing crusaders who hide behind the mask of Christianity to prop up craven secular systems — in this case, the military-industrial complex. “Got a little problem with the Arabs in the desert, so we’re gonna go to make ’em behave,” he sings, adding a dose of disgust to his deadpan vocals. “See, you take a little hammer and you pound the little bastards till they finally realize we are brave.”

His caricature of a self-righteous war hawk recalls the premiere musical satirist Randy Newman’s “Political Science” (“Let’s drop the big one and pulverize ’em.”), though Brusseau is less subtle; his “Floriduh” instrumental, a synthetic space-age sea shanty, underscores the grim absurdity of the situation.

Portrait of John R. Brusseau likely by his granchild. Image courtesy of ULYSSA.

 

Brusseau deals more directly with his crushing doubt on the album’s closer, “Death In the Labor Camps.” Here, his production elements remain chintzy; but even before his voice pours in, the mix is earnest and heartbreaking. “Death in the labor camps, I just can’t understand,” he croaks in the record’s most emotional moment, “Why this shit is happening / Is there no divine plan?”

The insights on Everybody Gets What They Want aren’t exclusively ecclesiastical. Even “Death in the Labor Camps” is more a meditation on love and fear than a thesis on God’s existence a la Viktor Frankl. (“Terrifying loneliness is worse than being found” and “Our fear makes fiends of all of us, and love is turned to stone” rank alongside “Authority is cruel and vain and wears a storm-gray suit” among the song’s best lines.)

Elsewhere, Brusseau probes more quotidian dimensions. “Freezemeout” deals with an asymmetrical breakup, foregoing self-seriousness for a wry approach akin to that of David Berman. “You didn’t have to gun me down like a victim of some sidestreet shooting / You already knew that you would use another plan,” he sings, his melodrama undergirded by the most Tim & Eric beat on the record. Not all matters of the heart on the album are depressing, either: “Come Dance With Me” and “Come Love Let’s Fly” are half-gospel, half-Napoleon Dynamite prom fodder.

Partly due to the album’s compilative nature, the songs on Everybody Gets What They Want are free-spinning entities, though all in the orbit of a single, almighty star. Behind kitschy umbrae, Brusseau hides fully realized worlds of word and sound.

read more
Water From Your Eyes run for cover(s)

Water From Your Eyes run for cover(s)

Water From Your Eyes   Nik Soelter Water From Your Eyes don’t take much seriously, but they are deeply invested in cover songs. The discography of Nate Amos and Rachel Brown’s Brooklyn-based project is partially defined by their versions of other people’s songs: In...

Diddy’s Mom Hospitalized For Chest Pains

Diddy’s Mom Hospitalized For Chest Pains

Diddy’s Mom was Hospitalized For Chest Pains. Sean Combs, better known as Diddy, received some distressing news recently as his mother, Janice Combs, was rushed to the hospital for severe chest pains. The family is understandably concerned for her well-being and hopes...

Brandy Returns to the Big Screen in ‘The Front Room’

Brandy Returns to the Big Screen in ‘The Front Room’

After a long hiatus from the big screen, fans of the multi-talented Brandy Norwood will be delighted to hear that she is making a comeback in the upcoming film ‘The Front Room’. Brandy has always been a force to be reckoned with. Whether she is showcasing her singing,...

Daphne Joy Removes Accusations Against 50 Cent

Daphne Joy Removes Accusations Against 50 Cent

Daphne Joy Removes Accusations Against 50 Cent. Daphne Joy, a model and actress, recently made headlines after removing accusations against rapper 50 Cent. The legal battle between the two celebrities has been the subject of much speculation and gossip in the...

CATEGORIES