Annot(e)tations is a column by Austin Nguyen that shines a light on the hidden gems of recently released albums or singles that may have flown under your radar. This week, he discusses brian mantra’s “You Are Not from Here!”
What the world needs: Better voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election, accurate results (no under/overcounts) in the decennial census, a solution to climate change/poverty/etc.
What the world does not need: another love song — *eye roll.*
Why, then, is brian mantra’s track on a newfound romance in the spotlight to kick off a new decade?
Ingenuity, of course, but also pure. freakin’. catchiness. — because the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.)
After all, a new year means a new m
e— no. It calls for new, evolving opinions, and in spending more and more time reading music writing — specifically year-end fessays on Stereogum/NPR and beautifully-written entries on the blog One Week//One Band — I’ve realized that the songs worth playing don’t have to be some masterpiece of lyrical genius inside an experimental soundscape (#poptimism), though that definition seems to remain true for a “great” song and a “great” artist.
In short, expect more non-literal ear worms with the accessibility of Carly Rae Jepsen as opposed to the avant-garde of FKA twigs in the future. But for now, the title track off of brian mantra’s newest EP “You Are Not from Here!” — henceforth referred to as “You Are…” — hits the mark in both respects (the former more than the latter): a would-be indie-rock cliché turned on its head with fugue-like injections of R&B throwbacks and the kaleidoscopic colors of palpitating guitar lines.
Had “You Are…” been put in lesser hands, the track could have been fated to be the fill-in-the-blank rerun of “Sliding Doors” it initially appears to be, all barebones acoustics and patterned note plucks, but mantra isn’t one to rehash old headlines created from critical consensus.
The Yanya-esque production is a mere starting point, a place of convergence before his own path comes into view — one where melodies are heard from a vintage radio in the distance with softened static, but also sing-shouted along to while seemingly drunk off of “purple sprite” and nervous from “pheromones.”
Racing heart rates start to calm down though once the alcohol wears off and mantra’s gaze becomes clear beneath the night sky, a synth twinkling in the background to form a constellation of starry-eyed love. “Pair of marbles on your face / Changing shapes my speakers play,” he fawns, with beauty found in the smallest of details as if kismet wrote this romance and placed traces of it in the past (“A classic, often all I bought / I’ve had since ‘08”) to bring him to this moment, effused with “I’ve known you since forever” passion.
But “You Are…” isn’t just some sentimental cliché stolen from the Overhyped Book of Lewis Capaldi; there’s a stifled chuckle in the studio jam sessions he shares with his lover (“Then you rock and roll/ To my favorite song”), a dream-waltz incredulity between the restless piano keys of the second verse, and a flirtatious swagger to the 1990s callback and wink (“This is how we do it”) that make the story real instead of feeling like thoughts copy-pasted from another artist (in Lewis’ case, that would be Ed Sheeran, but I digress…)
Maybe mantra is right; maybe love really can take romantics “beyond infinity,” be this light that guides the way to new possibilities, but one thing’s for certain: his future is just as bright.