Reviewed by Brahm Berry
At The Party With My Brown Friends is Katherine Paul’s second full length album; after her debut album’s outbreak success and critical acclaim, (from the likes of NPR and Pitchfork), Black Belt Eagle Scout’s new collection takes a turn in favor of a mellow exploration of sexuality, race, and womanhood. So, how does this album fair?
To start, there are two obvious stand-out songs on the album, being “Run It to Ya” and “I Said I Wouldn’t Write This Song.” What makes them stand out, however, comes down to two main factors. Firstly, unlike the front half of the album, the words are distinguishable. Unfortunately, consonants are lost in the earlier tracks, making it difficult to understand the collection’s deeper subject matter. For these tracks, though, clarity is (mostly) attained. The second main factor that separates these songs from their counterparts lies in their composition. Most of the songs in this collection are similarly-minded in terms of musical styles; essentially, they sound extremely similar. In isolation, this is a nonissue. However, when they are combined into an album format, it becomes difficult to tell most songs apart from each other by sound. This is not the case for “Run It to Ya” and “I Said I Wouldn’t Write This Song,” though. Almost like a breath of fresh air sandwiched in the middle of the album, they show signs of songwriting craft and musicality. Other notable songs that hint toward these ends, (though, albeit, to a lesser extent), are the final three songs of the album, “Scorpio Moon,” “Half Colored Hair,” and “You’re Me and I’m You.” This may be partially due to some increased clarity of lyrics, but the result means something regardless.
At The Party With My Brown Friends features production techniques belonging to the mellow pop/alternative vein, being that it heavily favors the high end of the mix. The guitar part is given preference in nearly every song, and sometimes the bass notes are almost entirely lost. Sometimes, it feels as though the bass deserves a lot more love, as the songs sound much more pleasant with that signal boosted. Additionally, the production standard is almost identical cross the album. The vocals are processed exactly the same, with a hearty application of reverb coating the signal. This is likely one thing that contributes to the vocal clarity mishaps in the earlier part of the album, as the words tend to bleed over each other. This technique surely has its creative merits, but that merit is mitigated when it is used in every track. The same issue can be applied to the bass and guitar as well. They are treated as rigid instruments and do not experiment with differing musical qualities, aside from some rare occasions. However, when the production manages to hit all the parts correctly, the quality improves drastically. These sections seem to come out of nowhere and seem almost as if they were mastered with completely different ears.
Overall, At The Party With My Brown Friends, (of Katherine Paul’s Black Belt Eagle Scout), has some very high highs, but also some pretty low lows. At its best, the album contains some very re-playable songs and ponder-able themes; at its worst, the collection seems monotonous. That said, for this to be Paul’s second album is impressive, and there is a definite growth in musicality when compared to her first album. There is plenty of room to grow, and if she continues to display her artistry so vehemently, the music will only get better. For fans of pop/alternative and mellow tunes, this will be a welcome addition to your playlists. For the uninitiated, however, this may not be the album of which to stake your interest in the genre. Everyone should keep tabs on Black Belt Eagle Scout and its future, though, because it has the capacity to be a household name.
- At the Party
- My Heart Dreams
- Going to the Beach With Haley
- Real Lovin
- Run it to Ya
- I Said I Wouldn’t Write This Song
- Scorpio Moon
- Half Colored Hair
- You’re Me and I’m You