Anyone listening to Brick and Mortar might as well be playing Rock Band. Whether that person is musically talented, virtually tone-deaf or beat resistant, air-drumming is the knee-jerk reaction to the band. Brick and Mortar’s newest album, Social Studies, is no exception.
The duo from Ashbury Park, N.J. blends the drama of Imagine Dragons with the nostalgia of punk-revival music, creating one refreshing rockstar smoothie. Sure, it’s not difficult to dissect Brick and Mortar’s music into two basic instruments (bass and drums), but the two members are expert at creating great music from them. In this case, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not nuance that draws ears to Social Studies, but rather the instrumental and composing prowess.
To put in the simplest words, the album is about succeeding by being true to yourself. Social Studies, much like the title, presents push-and-pull dynamics between self and society, and self against self. There is definitely a sense of frustration, but the music seems to funnel these metaphorical chains into a “secret window” where “you can see it all (“Train”).” In the song “Heatstroke,” Brick and Mortar expose an unexpected profundity behind the speaker’s newfound fearlessness. Beneath the catchy beats lies a story that can’t help but feel extremely personal to Brandon Asraf and John Tacon.
The stories told by Asraf and Tacon display their mindset in their ascent to stardom. Many tracks involve hitting the road, metaphorical or otherwise, and rebelling against those that deny them the passage into success. The well-loved track (first heard on the EP Bangs) “Locked in a Cage” proclaims, “A little drop of dreams can go so far / I know you’ve got the anger of a burning sun.” This anger, though recurring and very apparent, is carefully harnessed into fine-tuned music and self-reliant individualism — a belief that “I could do it my own way (“Staying Gold”).
By doing it their own way, the two musicians leave no musical white space unoccupied. The margins are left neither underwhelmed nor overwhelmed by the balance achieved in the simplicity of the bass, syncopated just enough by the vocals and drums. Some extra instrumentals and a little bit of rebellious lyrics fill the album to the brim; it’s impossible to believe the band is really just two people making good music together.
Whether it be a strength or a weakness, Social Studies is accessible and consistent. It’s the type of album that doesn’t rest all its weight on one particular song. So arguably, consistency is better than a one trick pony. The record has the “it” factor that is relatable and pleasant, which stands alone stronger than nuance or spectacle. With the consistent declaration that “I think I’m gonna make it anyway” (“Bangs”), the band initiates a stare-down between itself and the world, daring the world to fight against all odds.
Listen to the entire album here: https://myspace.com/brickmortar/music/album/social-studies-19426304
Written by Juhee Lee