REVIEW: BRIGHT ARCHER – HIDDEN SYSTEMS (2011)
Refreshing. That’s what Hidden Systems from Portland’s Bright Archer is in one single word. Admittedly being awash in dream pop these days or songwriters attempting to tweak the genre this way or that in collectively unorthodox ways can get tiring. That’s where Johanna Kunin is that break in the weather, that one sunny day after a workweek of dreary overcast. With eleven songs, Hidden Systems is a concise debut under the new monicker of piano songwriter indie pop.
Bright Archer escapes the chamber pop tendencies, pulling in a simplicity that draws to mind Sharon Van Etten, although with tufts of supporting vocals instead of an entire cloud system lifting her voice on the album. Being in Portland’s community, it’s wonderful to hear something pure and light (Kunin is also part of Loch Lomond). While it may seem flat, since Hidden Systems effortlessly carries you with it from start to ending, “Skies Open Wide” shakes a bit of that if you take a breather and pay attention. The uptempo punch of her piano coupled with gentle brass in the background-written down-seems like much, but Skyler Norwood and Kunin’s co-production make each additional musician seem like a natural extension of her musical vision. It’s also the most poppy track-tweak the lyrics and it could fit nicely on mainstream pop radio (but don’t…Bright Archer’s the best as is).
Hidden Systems works best as a cohesive piece, almost like an endless song that ebbs and flows in movements. It’s the best aspect, but also its minor downfall as half the album doesn’t seem to be distinct unless you’re truly focused. But to call it a downfall still is a stretch as her songs are such a pleasant trip, it’s akin to taking a break, laying in the grass and finding yourself waking up hours later. However songs stand solidly on their own, particularly “Ascension.”
“Ascension” is the onomatopoeia of all songs. The cottony chorus is of the thread count that cradles you into a blissful hibernation in the stratosphere through Johanna’s voice. The piano melodies, repetitive and simple, draw the listener into a hypnotic haze before spiraling upwards at the end. “No Comprehension” and “Sunrising” encapsulate drifting into daydreaming. Her lyrics are philosophically introspective, yet not impenetrable but with gentle and exuberant optimism. “She says we’ll leave the earth one day. One day we’ll turn imaginary, create things not so stationary. And for this who needs halos? We’re coming up in each society. We’re rising that’s what we do.”
And that’s what Bright Archer does. Hidden Systems recently become an album to go to in sluggish times, an effortless pick-me-up without the riddled sleep-deprivating effects of coffee. Think how you felt when you listen to Give Up from fellow Pacific Northwesterners The Postal Service, though more organic and from a female singer-songwriter.