Beginning with Marker 7-58, Brendan McMahon’s EP Universalist is as unpredictable as it is musically satisfying, and this makes for a fresh and relentlessly interesting collection.
Marker 7-58 sets the story telling off on as strong a foot as possible, offering up imagery and ideas that seem distant at first – some mysterious other is in question, the detail and descriptions second only to the power of the song’s structural build up. The music has unquestionable strength, the simplicity of folk in the opening few bars soon evolves into the epic warmth of a full band ballad – complete with solo, a vocal choir, and a dash of distortion; all of which adds to the weight and memorability of the song on the whole.
Hotel Hemmingway is immediately a much brighter, more joyful song than the opener. The contrast works well, and once again the story telling comes through in a way that captivates regardless of its instrumental surroundings. There’s a purity to this song that’s maintained with every element involved. The hook has power, something McMahon showcases as a songwriting strong point pretty consistently, and the musicality makes for a song that moves along with the sort of smoothness that would accompany a long drive just beautifully.
McMahon’s versatility comes from a string of different influences, and Fridays In December steps forward with a touch of dreamlike atmosphere that electrifies the upcoming concept. The piano part throughout this song creates a peacefully organic thread that contrasts well with the energy and pace of the intermittent guitar riff. The instrumentation in general makes for a gorgeous soundscape here, among which you can lose yourself entirely and just so occasionally catch a snippet of some more of those lyrics, those memories, those stories and experiences that the artist never holds back on.
Mother comes as something very raw and deeply emotional in among the brightness and volume of its peers. The title holds the key to its adoration, and the lyrics and the simplicity of the piano sound allow the concept, the declarations within, to be laid extremely bare – you can hear the emotion and truth in the singer’s voice, and this makes it a very intimate and genuine piece of music and writing.
The collection concludes with Beat, an intensely energetic and stylish piece of music, loaded with distortion and electronic funk and flair, but also with a notably captivating vocal melody that pours lyric after lyric into the mix. The swagger and character of the piece means that listeners are left with a lasting memory of the songwriter and of his wide range of musical abilities. It’s clear that the songwriting, the expression, is the heart of the artists work, and whatever comes out musically is simply a reaction to those initial ideas. It’s art doing what art does best – catering to these previously hidden feelings and highlighting them in the most unique, compelling, and creatively free manner. Brendan McMahon offers a hell of lot to enjoy, and the music comes in waves of different moods and different sentiments. Well worth a listen.