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Charlie Gleason’s third album as Brightly contains a song titled Bury Us In Fruit Jars, which is based around the tragic day of 24th June 1973, when 32 people died after an arsonist set fire to the UpStairs Lounge gay bar in New Orleans. It was the deadliest attack on LGBT people in America’s history, until earlier this month when 49 people were killed during a mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
Bury Us In Fruit Jars is a microcosm within Gleason’s new album One For Sorrow, Two For Joy, which tells the saddest of queer stories. It’s an honest and truly personal record, but it’s also the first album Gleason has written largely by himself, with all of Brightly’s members having moved to different countries. Ultimately, it pales in comparison to Brightly’s previous work.
Gleason, a London-based Aussie-born producer, programmer, computer science dropout and self-described “sometimes musician”, uses One For Sorrow, Two For Joy to map out queer experience in a kind of sonic journal, but this journal’s meandering electro-pop tracks just aren’t that compelling.
Partially recorded in a cabin near Reykjavík while Gleason was training for the London Marathon (yup), One For Sorrow, Two For Joy has very little organic instrumentation and less of the folk undertones seen in the musician’s earlier work. There’s a wild (and kind of random) electric guitar solo on Lost which actually works, but overall there’s less guitar and piano and more plodding electronic percussion and kitschy synths.
One For Sorrow, Two For Joy also contains an instrumental prologue, interlude and epilogue, which don’t add much to the record aside from breaking up its lyrical wordiness and making its seem like a quasi-concept album. That said, the record’s more noticeable downfalls are its lyrics and their lacklustre vocal hooks.
The lyrical content on One For Sorrow, Two For Joy is often simultaneously casual and bold, which can be inviting and intimate but also strange and unsettling. On the album’s title track, Gleason nonchalantly says he’s “a little sick” and “a little tired”, while in the single Rugby he flippantly mentions sex, drugs, death and the “cum on [his] jeans”, before Untitled arrives with Ceres’ Tom Lanyon singing the unnerving line, “Close your eyes, I’m gonna take advantage of you.” Dull or confronting lyrics like these instantly capture your attention, but they also take focus away from the genuine stories of frustration, contemplation and freedom on One For Sorrow, Two For Joy.
Thematically, Brightly’s 2015 album Oh, Infinity was about coming out and finding one’s place. One For Sorrow, Two For Joy is about freedom, as well as life’s inevitabilities, like stress, pain and dying. Inevitably, however, these themes are smothered by the album’s tedious lyrics and middle-of-the-road instrumentation, making it a draining record full of drawn-out hooks which rarely hook you in.
Listen: Brightly – Rugby