Multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Eric Gaffney is, with Lou Barlow, a founding member of the erratic, prolific and inexplicably popular Sebadoh. With that affiliation working overtime, indie-rock diehards will no doubt give Brilliant more attention than it would otherwise generate. Fortunately, this release demonstrates that a little Gaffney favoritism is actually well-deserved.
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Recorded mostly on a four-track at home, Brilliant features material from 1989 through 1999; as a result, Gaffney's first solo offering sounds more like an anthology than a debut. Hearing the many sides of his pop experimentalism, however, is a treat, not a chore. The disc begins with "Hudson River Landing," where Gaffney sings about "the river of lost dreams" and accompanies himself with guitar riffage that conjures the downtrodden eloquence of Galaxie 500. "All Sides" merges the fatalism of Nick Drake with the rhythmic mania of Jad Fair for a stumbling, clanging but ridiculously memorable minute and forty seconds of despair. Leaving sensitivity aside for "Claverack," Gaffney assumes the oddly compelling hybrid persona of a schizoid Wesley Willis meeting a pumped-up Iggy Pop, a formula not far from Sebadoh land itself. "Loch Ness Monster" might be described as the Cramps doing a cut for kindergartners, and "1983" is a simple punk-rock plea for tenderness. Instrumentals such as "Dead Piano Place" radiate a rumpled charm, thanks to bittersweet but endearing melodic tendencies, and "Jittery Side Effects" and "Xylophone" underscore Gaffney's role as the electric, eclectic member of Sebadoh more prone to loud experimentation than folky implosion. A couple of vocal appearances by Gaffney's wife, Janice Robyn, embellish the affair, as do highly deconstructed, almost mocking versions of the Clash's "Rebel Waltz" and the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations." Even if his reputation precedes it, Brilliant is a fine vindication for Gaffney, should he need one.