John Brodeur / The Suggestions
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John Brodeur / The Suggestions

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
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Press


Punk-rock lyrics have never been so clearly enunciated as they are on “Be True,” the song that kicks off The Suggestions’ Mix Tape. Capturing power pop at its finest, with loud guitars and drums playing simple melodies and kicking butt, Mix Tape gives some serious nods to Material Issue and the Posies and would sit extremely well in a collection that includes the Churchills and The Apples in Stereo. “Halo” is a sincere song that tells of the hero worship involved in romantic love. Vocalist John Brodeur’s love for The Beatles is illustrated in the band’s cover of George Harrison’s “Art of Dying.”
- Performing Songwriter


The Suggestions is the latest incarnation of indie popster John Brodeur. This power-pop three-piece throws out catchy pop nuggets with a rocking edge, which is what really distinguishes The Suggestions from Brodeur's solo work. On his last solo album, Tiger Pop, Brodeur pasted together a collection of laid-back guitar pop that worked quite nicely. On Mix Tape, the songs take on a much more raw and live feel thanks to the more gritty tone of the guitars.

That's not to say that The Suggestions music isn't polished, because Mix Tape carries a very nice pop sheen productionwise. It's just that this band seems to add a sense of fullness and vitality that wasn't evident in Tiger Pop, and Brodeur's songs fare all that much better for it.

The best way to compare this is to look at the highlight of Mix Tape, "Changing Your Mind (Again!)", which was also included on Tiger Pop (as "Changing Your Mind - Again?"). The Suggestions blow the original version of the song out of the water by speeding up the tempo and adding some crunch to the rhythm guitars. Lyrically, it's the strongest track on the album, spitting venom towards a potential lover who won't cut the ties with an ex ("I've known you for years / I have noticed all the trends / You've always said we're more than friends / So just humor me and take some sound advice and get the hell away from him"), and the dirty, jangly guitars push the sentiment even further than Brodeur's pained lyrics can express. The frustration Brodeur expresses at playing second fiddle gives the song an added dimension ("I've always said do what you think is best for you / But now it's time to do what's best for me") of emotion that seems remarkably sincere, as well.

"Be True" is a quick, catchy rocker that's just barely delicate enough to be nice, though it's got balls enough to rock (sorta like taking a shot of whiskey with your pinky up). "Halo" appears in two forms here - "radio edit" and "original," and either way, the song adds up to a very strong, though somewhat demented, love song ("You're all I see / You're all I do / And I can't escape / And I don't know if I want to be saved / Hover above / It's always you / If I died today / You'd always be standing over my grave"). "Birthday Girl (Into the Sun)" rides on a cool, mellow keyboard vibe (think Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver"), while "Masterpiece" sets out with an acoustic, country-tinged mood that stands out as the nicest track on Mix Tape. The track does pick up a bit of weight when the percussion sets in, but the mood remains relaxed regardless.

"Art of Dying" is most definitely the album's biggest and most flashed-out track, with everything from pianos and synth-strings to horns worked into the mix of this mid-tempo number. The mix is very deep and brooding, and while the song is busy, so to speak, it never seems cluttered or overdone. The rest of this album consists of pop nuggets - this is just a touch of psychedelia to clear the pallet. There's also a fine rock song tacked on to the end of the disc as a hidden extra track, which is a nice cherry to put on top of an already solid release.

Brodeur is obviously a very talented songwriter, as evidenced here on Mix Tape. For the most part, these songs are simple and catchy, and even when the material branches out and gets more involved ("Art of Dying"), The Suggestions keep a solid handle on everything on in around them in the mix. When this band gets around to recording a full-length record, it should make for a damn fine listen from beginning to end. Until then, however, Mix Tape works just fine.

- Delusions of Adequacy


One man, one acoustic guitar. He was decidedly not folk—playing songs with a bandleader’s sensibilities, he drew from a decade of past band activities. In a bold move he even covered Squeeze’s “Is That Love?” A highpoint of his set was a newer, yet-unrecorded song, “Movie of the Week.” Its spare chordal structure allowed the concise but eloquent melody to be cast in hues of fragile beauty. (David Greenberger) - Metroland


New York artist John Brodeur is all over the pop map, and he’s having one wild, creative, imaginative ride. His debut solo CD, “Tiger Pop,” is so much fun because there are no rules. He tries everything. He purposely distorts the recording. He jams like hell on the guitar. He throws in sound effects, even following his cat around with a microphone. He revisits the 70s with a synth-crazed pop intro to the first track, “Infected,” and surrounds the song with a spinning of the radio dial.

He’s also a cool, breezy lyricist. I love how “Infected” occasionally veers into the romantically awkward. “I’m infected by your smile....fractured by your voice, complicated by your kiss...” Ummm...thanks, I think.

Brodeur is a cross between Rufus Wainwright and Beck. Like Wainwright, he gives us elegant presentations of whimsical melodies in tracks like “Remains of the Heart.” This particular song would sound equally appropriate coming from a full orchestra. Like Beck, he doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks and wants to play with all the cool gizmos in the studio. “Changing Your Mind (Again)” is my favorite track for that very reason. The cluttered, muffled recording adds to the punk feel of the chorus. (Outstanding guitar work on this track, by the way. Brodeur has a few guest artists here and there, but for the most part, he plays all the instruments.)

I couldn’t stop listening to this CD. I just had to see what he’d do next. “Dying For Me” has a catchy staccato delivery on the verses and a Spanish guitar played elegantly over the dancing pop tune. The end of this particular song swells into a gorgeous wave of harmony. “Selfish” flows and sways with a psychedelic Beatles feel. “Kitten” is a short, simple acoustic folk song from the heart, sung in a plaintive voice.

In the press materials, I read that the recording sessions for “Tiger Pop” were long and plagued with problems, including a guitar intro that had to be recorded three times because it just wouldn’t register on tape. Thanks for hanging in there, John. In my opinion, the result was well worth the effort. - Indie-music.com


Brodeur plays a traditional blend of pop, seasoned by years of toil on the Albany club circuit. His solo debut, Tiger Pop, is an inviting jaunt through Jason Falkner-style melodies and personalized lyrics that add stark contrast to the album's sometimes saccharine undertones. What the album lacks in straight-up hooks, it more than makes up for in its pristine production, as well as Brodeur's unmistakable sense of enjoyment. At times the CD plays out in epic individuality, almost as if the instruments had animated the rotting carcass of Joan Crawford and resumed her unremitting quest for the spotlight...but in this case it's put to good use. Ephemeral glimpses of synthetic beats and electronic warblings give the disc an osmotic sense of urgency and a freshness you won't find in run of the mill rock records. - Splendid E-Zine


There's a certain kind of too-wide-eyed-to-wink irony that prompts John Brodeur to open his first solo album by singing in all sincerity: "I'm so into your scene / I want to be the only one."

It seems Mr. Brodeur, whose previous incarnation as the frontman of Albany local favorites The Explosives gave him plenty of practice in the earnest-but-knowing department, figures that we're smart enough realize he's making use of a pop cliché in order to affect what the theorists sometimes call pastiche: reinvention from within. And, from his e-mail domain (popstar.com) to the artfully intimate photo of his cat (who also appears on the record) next to a guitar emblazoned with the letters DIVA, Brodeur makes no bones about his aesthetic aspirations.

To this end, Tiger Pop is scattered with both lyrical and musical hooks that if shopworn are not entirely unpleasant. It's not exactly the "definition of catchy" as one press clipping asserted, but it's pretty close. He almost breaks the sugar bank on songs like "Selfish" in which his soaring but straight-faced falsetto traces an unshakable melody, but he's a bit closer to the melancholy navel-gazing of his admitted hero, Elliott Smith. "I'm leaving you today," he sings without a trace of irony or remorse; then, as tasteful strings (taking over from acoustic guitar) swoop down to ride out the chorus he cries: "You make me Selfish Man."

Oh yes, fans, this is what I sometimes call a "Relationship Record", in which listeners follow Our Hero through every excruciating phase of a tortured relationship. Weakness, obsession, fear of intimacy-it's all here. It starts with the aforementioned swinging declaration of love (which is, by the way, inaugurated with a whistle of the sort one often receives from men in passing cars), and by midway through the record he's breaking up: "This pressure burns my skin / Please don't pass my way again."

In fact, Lou Barlow came to mind more than once as I listened to this album; words like "selfish", or "burning", or "pressure" or ideas about not being "really in control", and being "sucked dry", could have been culled from Barlow's "sensitive rogue" arsenal. And, when he's not playing push-me-pull-you with Madame X, songs like the jivey "Easier", or the grindy "Sucker" leaven the loaf. In the first, Brodeur bemoans his weakness against a backdrop of rolling drums, organic sounds like a pencil tapping on a glass bottle, and not-quite-sweet backing vocals. He finally decides that the only answer would be a "gun to kill". It's not unlike Sebadoh's "True Hardcore", except that rather than directly mocking machismo (the enemy of any self-aware but red-blooded man) Brodeur simply adopts it and leaves it up to us to figure out whether or not he means it (HINT: he doesn't). This, and the wistfulness of his compositions have a stoic sentimentalism that may well catapult Mr. Brodeur into the sort of alt-rock pinup status that Barlow once enjoyed.

But Brodeur isn't intentionally invoking Barlow, not even the most sentimental moments of what someone once termed Barlow's "David Crosby affliction". And whatever the relationship, he hasn't really got Smith's scruffy sullen thing going on-he wants to be a diva, remember? Instead, he is careful to acknowledge the guidance of producer John Delehanty of Scarlet East Recording, who despite an apparently longwinded recording process encouraged Brodeur to experiment with more and varied orchestration. And Moby, who I suspect had more behind the scenes involvement than this simple credit would suggest, provides vocals on "Kitten" -- the same track, you guessed it, on which the cat appears. For all that, however, outside of guitar, drum and bass, the album mostly features strings and organ and the occasional organic percussion sample, including the ever endearing handclap, for which several collaborators are credited in the liner notes.

By the album's end Brodeur has reached the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel (the only cliché he actually thanks in the "Gratitude to the following..." section in the liner notes) with "Confidentially". Brodeur finally sounds sincerely sincere, even vulnerable. It begins with a soaring but wistful line on the Hammond organ, punctuated by muffled drums and acoustic guitar. Brodeur's tenor, belted and tense elsewhere on the album (when not catapulted into falsetto) approaches the authenticity of raw emotion as he sings, "And confidentially / I sometimes wish you'd stay / Keep it a secret / Don't throw it away." Muted backing vocals stream in over the Hammond, and even though it's all over, I'm pretty sure I'm getting an ounce, if not a pound of flesh.

And that, I guess, is the problem for me: I wish he would either mean it or wink. As it is, it feels like he's biting the tongue in his cheek to keep from laughing.
- PopMatters


Back in 2001, I reviewed Tiger Pop, a high-energy experimental alt pop CD by Albany artist John Brodeur. When he e-mailed recently to tell me he had a new 3-piece band (The Suggestions) with a new EP (Mix Tape), I jumped at the chance to review it.

Then I really lucked out. The Suggestions just happened to be playing right up the road in Chapel Hill while touring to promote the EP. I met them at a college hangout on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy the sunshine and talk about Brodeur’s new turn on the career path.

I’d already had a chance to listen to Mix Tape and was happy to see that having to answer to bandmates hadn’t forced Brodeur to compromise his no-rules musical playground approach to songwriting. The primary difference between Tiger Pop and Mix Tape is an underlying discipline that shapes such experimentation into tight, solid, radio-ready Britpop songs. Tiger Pop had a continuous flow. Mix Tape is more defined, a commercial-ready product that still manages to dodge the predictability of commercial radio music.

From the jumping, fun, rough-edged nostalgia pop of “Be True” to the George Harrison-like Middle Eastern harmonies of “Art of Dying,” Mix Tape offers a foregone conclusion that The Suggestions will be major label clients before too long. What surprised me was the fact that Brodeur was able to find bandmates that were willing to allow him such creative control. Clashing egos are usually a problem for bands, and Brodeur had been in and out of many bands over the past few years for that very reason. What made bassist Keith Hosmer and percussionist Jason Schultz so different?

“We follow orders,” Schultz says, only half-joking. But he and Hosmer go on to say that Brodeur’s drive is part of what made them want to work with him.

“John really works hard at promotion, and we really appreciate what he does,” says Hosmer. “When we’re playing at a club, we all work to promote ourselves through the shows and through selling CDs, but after the show, John’s still working. Jason and I will go throw a football or something, but John’s still inside, shaking hands, talking to people, promoting the group. He’s always working.”

It also doesn’t hurt to have such a strong product to push. More than once during the interview, the group says that it’s all about the song. “Right now,” says Schultz, “we’re just concentrating on making great music.”

The increase in sales is proof that they’re doing just that. “MP3 plays on our web site have skyrocketed,” Brodeur notes with satisfaction. “We’ve also been playing a brand-new song called ‘Meltdown’ which is getting a great crowd response at every show. We’ve also just started getting into college radio.”

“We’re breaking even on this tour, too.” Hosmer chimes in. “It’s paying for beer and gas!”

All three guys have taken time off from school or day jobs for this tour. Schultz is a full-time nursing student currently on break, Hosmer works as an internet engineer while getting a Masters in Business Administration, and Brodeur, who has a data entry job, will be out of vacation time in a week. “I was up front about this band during the interview,” he says, “and they were supportive. This band is my most important priority.”

Brodeur talks briefly about wanting to get back into the studio by the summer to make more of a rock album. The new effort will contain all new tracks, although he is toying with the idea of redoing one song off the Mix Tape EP. (Ironically enough, the track he wants to remake is called “Masterpiece.”)

All that will have to wait for now, as the tour is only three days old, and they still have Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Cambridge, and many other cities to cover. For Brodeur, that means several more gigs of relentless promotion and wedging his foot in the door at radio stations and possibly indie label offices.

True to form, he says overstepping boundaries while promoting The Suggestions is not a concept that concerns him. “It never hurts to keep pushing,” he says. “The key is to be courteous.”

And to have a product that will push the door the rest of the way open. With Mix Tape ready to market and a high-energy live show evoking enthusiastic crowd response, Brodeur and crew may not have to push so hard in the future. (Jennifer Layton)
- indie-music.com


Discography

The Suggestions "Get Through"
The Suggestions "Mix Tape" (2002)
John Brodeur "Tiger Pop" (2001)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

sonicbids.com/johnbrodeur

johnbrodeur.com

Band Members