With another tongue-in-cheek pun title reminiscent of his debut release, 2018’s Abrandon Ship, the scene is set for the second release from one of the UK’s most original DIY singer-songwriters, Leicester’s own Brandon Neal.
'ThreeFall' provides an understated yet catchy opening; one that will probably be familiar to those who’ve caught one of Neal’s live shows in 2019, having been previously released on social media early last year. The eerie background whistles and occasional discordant playing build up the sound well into a strong opener that’s certain to become a new earworm for listeners before it suddenly finishes, and the album launches into a happier sound with 'Grand for a Brandnew'.
The second track of the album is another intelligently-written critique on the lifestyle of a struggling musician, sarcastic and humorous, just as listeners will be coming to expect from much of Neal’s songwriting. Most of the album was self-recorded and self-produced at home, and that is slightly noticeable at points. The mastering is somewhat inconsistent, and the volume fluctuates significantly between louder and quieter sections of the music, which is something Neal should take into account for future releases. The style of playing ranges from sweetly finger-picked segments to aggressively fast plectrum-shredding chords, which can be difficult to make sound consistent when recorded. However, this does not impede on listening enjoyment too much for the most part.
Complimenting the clever songwriting this time around, listeners are presented with two bizarre yet wonderful instrumental sections, “Barth’s Holiday” and “Barth’s Homecoming” to break up the acts. 'Ricky’s Song' is a highlight in between them, a haunting melody that fans of Iron & Wine or Steve Knightley will definitely appreciate. The junkyard percussion sounds of “5 Years a Temp” also stand out as a high point, alongside an emotional vocal delivery before delving into the spectacularly melancholy “What’s the Matter?”
As the album draws to a close, we are treated to a reworked and calmer version of 'Wished', from Neal’s previous release, before a quiet conclusion with “Stay”. There is, admittedly, a slight decline in production quality with Abrandon Hope from Neal’s first album. However, the songwriting remains strong, witty, and fun. Out of the myriad of struggling singer-songwriters on Britain’s DIY circuit, Brandon Neal continues to prove time and time again why he is one of the few entirely deserving of your time.
Abrandon Hope is out now via self-release. Stream the record here.