Brady Brock’s debut stems from a nice conceit. After graduating college, he traveled, visited friends, and reminisced into the wee hours of the night. He repays the favor of all those borrowed couches and beers by writing 11 songs, all based on the stories his friends had to tell him after the idle chitchat had faded away in the night. Unsurprisingly, the central theme is love — after all, it’s what colors most of our triumphs and failures — and the real-life range of Brock’s subjects means that he tries on almost every mask loneliness has to offer.
If it seems like Brock centers on the bleak side of love, it’s probably because, by his own account, he was leaving his own intense relationship at the time. I suppose it also has to do with the fact that his friends were probably more prone to talk about their failures than their successes. Without sounding perverse, failure is also more interesting — it shows us what we’re made of. Consequently, Brock’s songs teem with varying reactions to lost loves, not to mention ambivalence about finding love again. Remarkably, he never succumbs to melodrama or cheap dynamics, preferring to let the lives of his friends merge with his own sensibilities into their own distinct stories.
His presentation is decidedly lo-fi: mainly him and his guitar, melodies stripped to their unadorned essence. It may be too unadorned for some, and he’s definitely fond of using simple strum patterns as the barest bedrock for his melodies. So those not fond of unembellished indie-style guitar playing might want to tread with caution. Once past that minor hurdle, though, you’ve got a songwriter who deserves the plentiful praise he’s getting. One listen to a song like “Pantomimed Pictures (on a Silver-Lined Tree) and you’ll be convinced that patron saints of loneliness like Lou Barlow and Elliott Smith need to start clearing some space at the table. Only “Walk, Don’t Walk” bounces briskly, and even that boasts lyrics like, “She’s read the lyric sheet of your life / She got to page 13 and got tired”. As a whole, I Will Live in You Where Your Heart Used to Be is tailor-made for solitude.
The disc’s two strongest tracks, “Pantomimed Pictures (on a Silver-Lined Tree)” and “Corpus Christi” both feel like lullabies, with Brock playing repetitive, chiming guitar patterns. It’s the lyrics, though, that show these gentle songs to be pure anguish. “Corpus Christi” exclaims, “I can’t move on to bigger things because that was the biggest thing left in me” and “Pantomimed Pictures” paints perhaps the bleakest portrait ever of a lonely Christmas. Not only is this Christmas sad, but the narrator imagines himself two years down the line, still sitting by the tree without someone. Other highlights include “Western Song for the Missing”, “Empty Bottles and a Similar Heart”, and “The Illustrated Book of Trees”, all of which follow Brock’s basic template. Once you get into Brock’s frame of mind, though, Brock’s strumming and the mournful touches of strings in many of these songs feel as natural as a relaxed heartbeat.
According to Brock, one reason for telling his friends’ stories is that he wasn’t objective enough to tell his own. It’s impossible, though, for an artist to not leave some small part of himself behind in a work. It’d be interesting to know if Brock achieved his goal of interpreting his own life through the universal experiences of others. As it is, he’s certainly crafted a record that the rest of us can identify with.