Back in early spring, our world morphed into an unimaginable, unrecognizable grayness thanks to an unimaginable, unrecognizable virus. It was an unnerving time that the majority of human beings couldn’t comprehend. The idea of shutting down a world we knew was unfathomable, and admittedly difficult. As an entire species, we needed different ways to piece together our thoughts without acting rash or politically inhumane.
Some of us succeeded in this venture, particularly those in the music world. Quarantine became an opportunity for artists to unpack certain nuances in everyday life. Very few did this better than local Boston artist Briefcvse, who released a ruminative string of soundbites predicated to fathoming the unfathomable. These vignettes and stark realizations were the basis for his early spring album, Low Quality Demos.
When I wrote about this project back in April, I described the journey as “a creeping pilgrimage through the everyday sludge of reality-a hopeless search for motivation.” To me, Brief came off as understandably frustrated, and it was difficult to not relate to the confusion and melancholy of it all. The project captured the bewilderment of our world perfectly.
Fast forward seven months later, and the future still appears murky, even with a vaccine on the horizon. Individual complacency, unwarranted deaths (well over 250,000 at this point), and federal & statewide mishaps have lead to more COVID-19 cases than ever before. In the U.S. alone, we’ve virtually went from over a million cases a month, to over four million cases throughout the month of November. The distant future looks reassuring, but our past and present continues to be a hard pill to swallow.
Music, as always, continues to keep me afloat as we head into the winter months, and the same could easily be said for Briefcvse. As a late-year present, he’s just recently released his second project of the year, Some Kind Of Episode.
In a conversation over email, Briefcvse tells me that his goal this time around was to pivot to more genre-bending tropes. “I felt like I wanted to change the tone of this project from LQD,” he said. “This project was meant to be funnier and more lighthearted.”
From an aesthetic standpoint, SKOE also transcends modern technological advancements. The project, according to Briefcvse, is inspired by his exploration of VHS tapes, which is the type of quirky quarantine factoid I live for. His goal was to capture a nostalgic sound reminiscent of someone recording very weird channel surfing on a VCR.
“I found an old TV, VCR and a bunch of very weird VHS and random VHS tapes in my basement,” Briefcvse said. “While I was watching them I realized there was something really comforting and cool about the character of the sound that the VHS produced.”
Unlike LQD, which relied heavily on dusty lo-fi jazz references, SKOE presents itself in a more distorted, almost industrialized, state. “Motive To the Madness” features Brief’s droning vocals tumbling through a wall of crashing timbre, while “Steep” gives off this serene landscape with emotive synths and trudging drums. Having mastered the entire project through VHS, Briefcvse quite literally illustrates a dated era without the music ever sounding outdated.
A lot of that success comes from his ardent production style, while some of it is a result of his broad listening habits. Outside of local rap acts like Kadeem and Ill Addicts, Brief is heavily inspired by punk bands like Upchuck and alternative rap acts like Cities Aviv.
Having these wide-ranging influences has essentially allowed Briefcvse to be wholeheartedly himself. The middle of this project represents the aforementioned “flipping through the channels” style he essentially wants to illustrate. There’s a snippet of what sounds like an old sitcom at the end of “Expletive’s” staticky polygamy of trip hop and industrial. On “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner,” Brief satirically mimics a game show host, and explicitly states why he makes the creative choices he does. “I try so hard, really, to obscure my work, because I’m generally afraid of being found out as fraud,” he comically proclaims.
From a lyrical and cadence perspective, Brief almost reminds me of Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, especially on Liquid Jool-assissted “black paint.” He’s cautiously descriptive like the lead singer but never truly self-serious in his observations. He sings the chorus, “Black paint covering the atmosphere” in a tone that feels more sardonically acerbic, rather then revelatory. This song could also be a testament to our crumbling climate, but who really knows in the world of Briefcvse. Inherently, that’s what makes his music so intriguingly caustic.
With all of the sadness and heartache we’ve been through, it’s nice hearing a project that simultaneously doesn’t take itself seriously, while still understanding the chaos we’re up against. SKOE is a great achievement for the budding local artist, because it recollects a time period as if it were an old fossil collector-and does so through a very genuine lens. I wondered, after LQD, where Briefcase would take his experimental sound. This forward-thinking use of previous artifacts may be the beginning of a fruitful, and ultimately, unparalleled direction.