There is a line that divides innocence from knowledge. One one side of it, the illusionist performs magic, and on the other side they play tricks. Once you watched a movie where things you’ve never seen before came to life, and you wondered how they did that. Now you say the computer did it. There is a reason why the song “Toyland” informs the listener that, “Once you pass its borders, you may never return again.” That’s because once you are on that opposite side, it is incredibly difficult to un-see the gears, strings, and rods propping everything up.
It is no wonder then that the 1960s were so steeped in attempting to recapture that nostalgia, as knowledge proposed to ruin all of it. Skirting the degrees of the childlike and the childish, this is no more evident than in popular music, from fractured fairy tale pop of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys’ SMiLE project to the woozy psychedelia that attempted to wash people in waves of wonder and forgetfulness.
You can get close to recapturing a feeling, but you can’t fully get there because you know too much…and you shouldn’t. There’s yet another fine line between making music that evokes younger days, and some really bad children’s music that accidentally juggles parody and patronization. I sincerely doubt Brandon Schott has it in him to make a bad record, so we can rule out the latter for his newest, Crayons & Angels, now in the process of a Kickstarter campaign. You can find out about it here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/444321026/brandon-schotts-crayons-and-angels
Schott has teamed up with Andrew Curry, another name that has made the rounds here at Popdose once or twice. Curry was the ringleader for the excellent tribute compilations Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock and Here Comes The Reign Again, a like-minded tribute to ’80s British pop. Crayons & Angels marks the first foray of his Curry Cuts imprint in the world of original material album releases. Right from jump, the two gentlemen have their work cut out for themselves. Curry’s previous efforts benefited from the inherent curiosity factor, which this release doesn’t have. That shouldn’t dissuade you in any way from giving it a listen.
Schott is part pop wunderkind and part pop historian, weaving together sunny tunes and soft, atmospheric preludes in a format that’s more pleasantly aligned with the ’60s and ’70s than the fragmented Teens. Densely layered harmonies introduce the tone vocabulary up front with the brief “Dandelion” which moves into “Henry,” exhibiting to these ears a feel of vintage Merrymakers (and those who influenced them). While the collection features eighteen tracks, making the attempt to pick a conclusive best song near impossible, one of the highest ranking entries is “Every Little Song.” A duet with another Popdose favorite in Kelly Jones, the tune is a perfect example of Schott’s sense of melodic construction. Schott is joined by Nick Heyward on “Better Version Of Me,” yet another standout. But if you absolutely need a cover song to ease you in, Schott does a remarkable version of Elvis Costello’s “Riot Act” on Crayons & Angels too.
There is a connectivity to the tracklisting that suggests a larger theme at work on the album. I won’t go so far to say it is a concept record. Many of the pieces fit untethered within the context of classic pop — love won and lost, youth lived and passed — but there’s no denying that opening with “Dandelion” and returning to it in “Dandelion Rain” near the end is not an arbitrary decision. The key line, “Wonder what became of dandelion rain” underscores the premise that things have changed since we grew up. Following that is “Verdugo Park Part II,” also a callback from earlier in the record (being “Verdugo Park”). You may recall that song debuting as a single earlier in the year, and it’s sunny demeanor illustrated carefree days. The sequel sounds more like that voice of knowledge, or more precisely, too much knowledge. Schott sings like he needs to get back to that place, to shake away the burdens of adulthood, if only temporarily. Winding through the “foothills of Montrose,” the instrumentation fills in when Schott sings, “Verdugo Park is here.” Unlike Toyland, you can return although it is never going to be quite the same. Does it really have to be?
For anyone looking for that highly melodic, youthful (but not juvenile) sound, Crayons & Angels marks a new high water mark for Schott and is recommended. As a musical illusionist, he can make openhearted listeners still believe in magic, at least for a little while.
For a very limited time, contribute to the Kickstarter campaign and get in on this project at whatever level suits you: digital, CD, or vinyl. These can be found by clicking here.