Bright Channel – Self-Propelled (Flight Approved, 2006)

by Tom Murphy

The stark, black and white photograph, with its ability to reveal detail, of high-tension lines and electrical towers on the cover of Self-Propelled is the perfect calling card for the music within.  Bright Channel have always written songs that are shockingly lean for music so rich in sonic texture and that is more true on this most recent release than on their eponymous debut.  There are no wasted moments in any of their songs and one gets the impression that they have worked on their music until only the essential components are left.  This quality gives Self-Propelled sharp quality with electrifying contrasts in tone across the album and within each song.
There remains an urgency in this second Bright Channel release that lends each track a feeling of triumph and, curiously, progress.  It’s as though you can feel the evolution of the band in listening to their music.  Jeff Suthers’ multi-dimensional guitar work is much more apparent in the production than it was on the record produced by Steve Albini.  The echoing, mechanical roaring quickly contrasting with the driving distortion anti-melody line in “Charmour,” the rhythm and filigree of a tasteful lead in “Disillusionist” and the drifting haze intertwined with the deep, bending, slow whirlwind of sound in “Guardian” have all been captured with breathtaking detail and fidelity.  The importance of the bass guitar and drums are also brought to the fore so that a listener not privileged enough to have seen the band live can have some chance of understanding what makes them so remarkable.  What sets Bright Channel apart from a lot of rock bands in general, is how the bass, and the rhythm in general, drive the music.  This may be the legacy of the first wave of post-punk as an influence but Bright Channel does this in such a way so as to make each sound in the band critical to the songwriting process and they do not emphasize rhythm just to get people dancing—that’s better left to bands who don’t truly appreciate the starkness of Joy Division or the political fervor and deep irony of The Gang of Four.
It’s always refreshing when a band only puts strong material on their albums and in that regard Bright Channel have never disappointed.  And yet even their own high standards have yielded one of the most powerful songs of their career so far in “Silver Age.”  The forward velocity of the song is surprising and it is possibly the darkest song they have yet written.  The title alone is suggestive of living in times people want us to believe is the high point of culture and civilization when really the peak of human creativity and idealism have passed us by and gone into hiding.  There is certainly a sense of disappointment and melancholy across Self-Propelled at the failure of the human race to reach out to the best angels of our nature and ride the wings of our own inspiration.  However, within that tone of relative gloom, the music crackles with an internal electricity, hinting at the necessity of cultivating your own vision of creating beauty and greatness in a world where there is so much artifice and where social forces are at work to keep us all in line with settling for a much duller dream.
It is impossible to compare Bright Channel to any rock bands in the world today because they’re way beyond shoegaze and if post-punk has become something as uninspired and as contrived as She Wants Revenge or The Bravery, it’s tempting to disavow any connection with that very term.  They don’t sound like they’re part of some trendy movement and they have grown far beyond their influences into being one of the true originals walking the earth today.  Because they’re not like anyone else, they are proof that one can still hope for great music to emerge even though the industry tries to shove waves of mediocrity down the throat of America through every means available every single day.  It’s a matter of time before Bright Channel attracts a much larger audience and this record should serve to hasten the inevitable.

July 2006