Their first record for Matador; their first record featuring new bassist Marty Key: The Brutalist Bricks is a record of firsts. It's the band's second shortest record, however (2004's Shake the Sheets is a couple of minutes briefer, at 39:52), and a departure from the drawn-out, exploratory songs of 2007's Living With the Living.
Opener 'The Mighty Sparrow' is classic Leo, punchy and bright, and it barely sticks around long enough for the refrain to become embedded in your subconscious before the drum-laden 'Mourning in America' makes its fuzz bass and ricochet drum fill presence felt.
There are a the odd few lyrical oddities herein: a line like "the means of production are now in the hands of the workers" sounds a little overwrought in 'Ativan Eyes', accuracy of the statement notwithstanding. Similarly, the odd stereo-shifting of the opening vocal of 'Bottled in Cork' is disconcerting, but this can't spoil the main hook of the song, as earworm-inspiring as Living With the Living's 'The Lost Brigade' and its "every little memory has a song" refrain was.
Leo's songwriting is generally strong, however, and catchy moments like the Hot Snakes esque 'The Stick', 'Where Was My Brain' and 'Bottled in Cork' are standouts. Everything on The Brutalist Bricks is stripped down and rocking – with few exceptions, most tracks are upbeat, punchy and guitar-heavy. Leo's knack for jangly rock guitar tones and the vocal-friendly mixing pushes his smart lyrics to the fore, with almost every track at the 3 minutes or less mark.
Leo's knack for a fantastic chorus is evident in much of the material here: those of 'Bartomelo and the Buzzing of Bees' will hover around your head for weeks. Like much of Ted and his Pharmacists's back catalogue, this record packs a punch – the raw and lean nature of most of the songs lends power to the few but well-chosen softer moments. Leo's desire to experiment is still around ('Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop') but wisely subdued a little compared to his last outing.
Whether a new label, new bandmate or new government has inspired Leo to return to stripped back and organic rock and roll, the major point to note is that he's lost none of his songwriting abilities and desire to remain hopeful, urgent and intelligent. Long may he continue.
8.0 / 10
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