Mighty Brother: Azimuth (2022) LP

Mighty Brother is a New Orleans-based indie rock band made up of Ari Kirkman (vocals, electric guitar), Nick Huster (vocals, percussion), Quinn Sternberg (bass), Jonah Tarver (saxophone), and Nick Solnick (drums, percussion). Their latest 11 track LP, ‘Azimuth’ (December 2022), was recorded by Justin Armstrong at Marigny Studios in New Orleans. It’s an extremely well-crafted and thought provoking concept album dealing with themes of loss, normalcy, and rebirth.

“Ovah-Tu-Mawai” is an upbeat plea to the “watchsmith” (ie. god) for a sign, “Lashing and thrashing at the foot of the spire / Watchmen, I pray ya hang your lantern high”. It starts with a jazzy-riff on a clean electric guitar that dances around a shuffling beat, which livens up at 0:14 when the third line of the first verse kicks off and a tambourine accentuates the already rocking-rhythm. Each of the three verses end with the plea, ‘Oh my, my shy one, would you give me a sign?’ There’s a myriad of thoughtful symbols, metaphors, and word-play in the lyricism to keep one busily pondering its meaning. For example, the song title itself is the phonetic for ‘over to my way’, as is sung in the chorus, “Silver tongued, and sweetly my Luna, singing “over to my way”. As impeccable as the song sounds at the very beginning, it keeps getting better and better as new instruments are brought in like the gorgeous saxophone at 0:35 that does all kinds of flourishing runs as well as harmonizing with and decorating Kirkman’s flamboyant vocals, which strike me with their Alex-Turner-of-Arctic-Monkey’s-level of maturity. At 1:14 a quick little instrumental lull gives the song a moment to reset after the chorus and then move into the last verse. Thematically, it’s part love-song, part metaphysical-quandary, part cosmological-investigation, part astronomical-dissertation, part humorous-dialogue.

The title track opens with the lyrics, “Albatross / The never lost / A guide, a guide / A sight for sore eyes / Fail me not / Albatross / You’re like good poetry”. An albatross can represent a source of frustration or guilt or an encumbrance (in allusion to Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), which Mighty Brother may or may not be referencing here, but hey, if they’re not then it’s still an interesting synchronism, but it seems more likely that they are, in fact, considering the mention of ‘good poetry’. It’s generally a sparser and more atmospheric song, although its expanse and build varies considerably in sections and its climax really fills up the hitherto open space following the 4-minute mark. Sternberg’s standout funky-bass opens the song and continues on throughout, creating and setting up the whole groove and feel of the song. The bass really comes out in the mix and deservedly so as it’s acting harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically, which is probably why there isn’t much electric guitar. As serious and high-minded as the subject matter and tone of the album is, what’s most refreshing is the humorous moments that come in different forms, shapes, and sizes, but on this song, specifically at 0:57, someone repeats the line ‘like good poetry’ in a purely talkative tone that brought a smile to my unforgivably downer disposition. Contrary to my initial expectation, azimuth is not a made-up word! Azimuth refers to the angle between North and a celestial object, or in other words what sailors use to track their course, which ties in to overarching themes of loss, normalcy, and rebirth.

The epic anti-establishment anthem “Doldrums” has Gospel undertones, “‘You flounder, you’ve all the latitude / Of a downer,’ spat the king with attitude / ‘Kid, you’re nothing but lost, / A societal cost, / Now be off, I’d rather not be caught dead with you!’” It incorporates backup harmonies and choral-esque singing like at 2:42 with ‘Said the tyrant’. The minimal guitar intro leaves plenty of directional possibilities and because of this initial open-ended-ness one is constantly surprised by the turns and twists that the song does decide to take: the recurrent cascading chorus of saxophones at 0:52 that word-paints the lyric, “We agree this ship’s gonna sink”; the throaty growl of “Let’s take a vote…” at 1:01; the beautifully panned sax at 1:20; a random guitar slide at 1:29. Doldrums offers a critique of the upper echelons of society but remains apolitical through striking abstract language and poetic flair. Ari Kirkman is a truly phenomenal singer with an ultra-diverse and dynamic range and an inventiveness that’s startlingly confident.

Closing the album is “The Breakers,” a gentle and slowed down guitar ballade that’s largely stripped back to accentuate Kirkman’s voice, “Opalescent Mother / Cradled by the Sea / I was not a pearl but a / Grain of sand you carried”. There’s some flutters from the sax, but it’s pretty barebones and is there to supplement the vocals. The closing mantra of, “Two thousand feet above the breakers / I am climbing down,” seems to suggest that the narrator has finally embraced their own “layers of accretion”, meaning the growth and change that they’ve undergone. It’s a downright cry-me-to-sleep lullaby that ends the album on a bittersweet note, just as it ought to!

Each of the 11 tracks on this album are brilliant on every front in their own individual right and it’s well worth listening to the rest of the album! Or hey, you could even buy it on vinyl if that’s your thing: Mighty Brother on Vinyl: Azimuth.

If you want to keep up to date with Might Brother’s latest going-ons: https://www.instagram.com/mightybrotherband/
Official Website: https://mightybrotherband.com

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