Listen Up: Wednesday, May 10, 2006
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Tom Brosseau

Empty Houses Are Lonely (Fat Cat Records)

By Jimmy Fowler

The first striking feature about Los Angeles-based, North Dakota-born Tom Brosseau’s music is that he sounds like a woman. Sometimes. His is one of the most purely androgynous vocal instruments you ever may have heard. From one falsetto note to the next, all delivered with a generally wry, conversational phrasing, you can’t pigeonhole him by any conventional standard of gender qualities. His gorgeous, femme boy/butch girl tenor seems to hover in some twilight zone between childhood and adulthood that lends a unique knowingness to his often alienated, imagistic lyrics: He’s seen the world from both sides now — male and female, young and old — and has returned to verify that emotion transcends what people carry between their legs. The effect on Empty Houses Are Lonely, a collection of pared-down guitar recordings from past indie releases with a smattering of new tunes mixed in, is exotic, disarming, and oddly liberating. Brosseau unwittingly serves as an object lesson in how musicians glibly segregate themselves into all kinds of categories — none of the labels easily fit this discontented but perpetually amused storyteller. He also distinguishes himself, in tunes like “Fragile Mind” and “Mary Anne,” with a unique sense of song structure — verses get broken up into series of little melodies that sometimes sound bunched together and, at first, mismatched. “How To Grow a Woman from the Ground” is as confounding as its title, in which the narrator rhapsodizes about an imaginary girlfriend with a “honey halo” he has created from a string of caught fish. Critics have compared Brosseau to Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, but the eerie nonsensical quality of much of Empty Houses Are Lonely is just as reminiscent of a rural Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s early frontman and acid casualty. “Anyone could fit in my shoes / But would anyone miss me when I’m gone?” Brosseau wonders on “Bars”: It’s a possibly disingenuous moment of self-effacement from an artist who can raise the hairs on a listener’s arms like few others around today.


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