steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

Dan Bryk

"Pop Psychology" CD

Urban Myth

Genre: indie pop

New York, NY (orig Mississauga, ON)

December 2009

For all his talent and verve, it's always struck me as strange how little attention Dan Bryk has gotten from the music community as a whole. Bryk has all the makings of an indie pop superstar -- a nerdy yet intoxicatingly tuneful voice, giggly lyrics which tell stories, and more than a few coyly infectious hooks. His last album, Lover's Leap, contained odes to computer game programmers, chunky girls, and dysfunctional relationships, and received glowing recommendations by the likes of Pitchfork and the perpetually unimpressed Robert Christgau. Yet still, his name is far from ubiquitous.

Nine years down the line, it's finally time for Bryk's third bona fide full-length, the interim having produced a Christmas record and one catchy if slightly inconsistent EP. And it's great to have Dan back. Pop Psychology (clever title, no?) may lack some of Lover's Leap's exuberantly youthful pop potency, but it's also a much more mature and fleshed-out record than its predecessor. At its defining moments, this album has the makings of a melodic miracle -- something which is evident as early on as the first track. "Treat of the Week" is an endearing piano ballad crossed with a soulfully smooth chorus, the sort of song you hear once and recognize forever. Clever lyrical turns reward the listener who's in it for more than the melodic rush. Equally sublime is the album's other high point, "The Next Best Thing," a song which mines one of Bryk's patent themes -- compromise. "I'm always waiting for the next big thing/But I settle for the next best thing," he muses, encapsulating the sense of smirking cynicism which inflects many of his most memorable songs. In the past, this clever jadedness came out in the likes of "And Now Our Love is Dead" and "She Doesn't Mean a Thing to Me Tonight," whereas here it is twisted up in several of this record's stronger moments. Consider resigned "Discount Store," which converts a seemingly innocuous premise ("I'm going to the discount store") into a sweeping examination of adulthood's epiphanies. Then there's the painfully honest "My Alleged Career" and its hardened reflections: "Trying to pass/For some kind of cool modern rock masochist/When I'm clearly a slave/To the song." But despite all the self-effacing rhetoric, Bryk seldom drifts into self-pity; the whole affair conceals a deep-seated knowingness that renders Pop Psychology refreshingly clever instead of head-shakingly pathetic. Only bitter "My Own Worst Enemy" -- Bryk's harsh dissertation on a life's worth of pathos -- removes tongue from cheek and veers into astonishing earnestness.

Ben Folds comparisons are inevitable as Bryk's main weapons are his ivory keys, with a rotating cast of bandmates rounding out the sound with everything from lap steel to a trombone. Yet Bryk's sound is never derivative or generic, even on the album's weaker tracks ("Horizons in My Way" leading that charge). Instead, this disc is electric in its irresistible whimsy, with sparse ballads and full-band charges mingling joyfully to create a a far more complete venture than was witnessed on Lover's Leap. When all is said and done, this brilliantly reflective passage of Pop Psychology is a long, long, long overdue opus from this frightfully talented slave to the (perfect pop) song.

dan bryk's myspace

From Lover's Leap:

Michael Tau

[Vitals: 12 tracks, distributed by the label, released 2009]