by Chris Familton
Sydney songwriter Bryan Estepa has been releasing music for a decade now and on Heart vs Mind he has consolidated those years of songwriting, performing and developing his craft to produce a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.
The predominant feature of the record is how versatile Estepa is as a musical magpie. He dips into all manner of stylistic pools, whether it be the unabashed yacht rock of Overnight, the gliding 70s sound of Seachange that equally channels Al Stewart and High Llamas, the country rock flavoured Come What May or the brisk power pop rush of In A Minute.
The glue that seamlessly bind these songs is Estepa’s voice, a mercurial instrument that sounds so familiar. Sure it is easy on the ear, warm and comforting but it doesn’t ever veer into saccharine middle-of-the-road balladeer territory. It soars with a gentle ache on Nothing At All and displays an americana fragility on the opening track (If You Follow) We Just Might Get Near of the type that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has built a career on. Arms Reach is another song that demands plaudits for his singing, channeling Roy Orbison with its swell and swoon as it beautifully billows in and out of falsetto.
While Estepa’s voice takes centre stage the production of Adrian Deutsch is another key to the appeal of Heart vs Mind. He has gifted the songs with space and shaped a warm organic sound to the instrumentation. Those qualities make the musical references to the 60s and 70s completely believable and authentic and give Estepa’s vocals the panoramic canvas they deserve.
Thematically Heart vs Mind is one of those records that deals in the push and pull of human emotion and the crossroads of circumstance. It is a relationship album but one that works on a meta level, dealing in the inevitable trials and tribulations that life deals most of us at some point. There are points where guitars translate the turbulence of the subject matter as effectively as words. She vs Him builds into a spiraling, overlapping whirlwind of noise that throws the notes into the air like ashes from a mountaintop. Contrastingly Arms Reach’s slide guitar replicates tears and heartache with Harrison-esque sensitivity.
Early last year I was stopped in my tracks by Suzy Connolly’s (Estepa’s label-mate) album and in many ways Heart vs Mind’s impact comes from a similar place. This is music that feels genuine, follows no trend or fashion and its composition seems effortless and built on an endless reservoir of classic sounding pop and rock melodies. Estepa will reset your musical compass with this truly wonderful record that refreshes the notion of timeless music.
Heart vs Mind is out now via Laughing Outlaw Records