Erin Hunt - ‘Brave New World’            by Ralph Chapman

“It all felt like part of some grand plan.”  Singer/songwriter Erin Hunt is musing on the journey to the release of her second album, ‘Brave New World’, an uncommonly rich, joyous and exhilarating piece of work that defies categorization while freely exploring the deepest yearnings of the human condition.  A profoundly musical record built for headphone listening -  to sit back, fire up a fatty and disappear into - but also perfect to blast over speakers, to groove to, until the music stops you in your tracks (and it will).  A career defining album that represents both a summit, and a beginning for Hunt.

It’s also one of the most beautiful sounding records you’ll ever hear. But more on that later… 

“A lot of the songs are about manifestation - purposely manifesting things in your life.  Songs that came out of this inner expedition I’ve been on over the last several years, that were waiting for the right moment to be recorded.”  As personal as many of Hunt’s songs are, what makes them so compelling is how within our grasp they are.  ‘Brave New World’ is not a record that leaves you on the outside looking in, staring through a pane of glass at an artist baring their soul to a cracked mirror.  It’s a record of invitation and beckoning, of love and light, of conversation and resolve, made more potent by two fundamentals of great lyric writing: the words are never insipid or contrived, and, they are unburdened and untouched by the politics and swirling zeitgeists of the now, giving them a sense of the timeless - plain spoken, instantaneous, empowering. 

Case in point is the lead single, and title track, “Brave New World”: 

“Will you cross the void with me, and leave this ancient misery? We’ll change the way we feel. Memories speed by – we wish them well, we say goodbye, and love is all we feel.” 

At first glance, an easy balm for these doom-laden times.  But digging deeper, “Brave New World” reveals a fundamental plea around manifesting your own reality, of the exhilaration of change, and a possible path by which to take control of your life. 

Of course, none of this would matter as much if the music weren’t so bloody good. ‘Brave New World’ is a showcase for Erin’s compositional and arrangement chops and discipline, each song being a ride in and of itself, lasting just the right amount of time. Echoing the enduring musical invention and dynamism of greats such as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, and John Martyn (well, that’s who I hear!), it would be easy to slot Erin into the 70s singer/songwriter vibe, but there’s nothing retro about her sound or approach.  The music, with its mélange of jazz, rock, Latin, pop, and on, and on, is impossible to define. In this kooky musical climate of endless genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub genres, perhaps it is best to say, “It doesn’t matter, as long as it sounds good.” But Erin and her hand-picked team of producers, engineers, mixers and musicians haven’t created something that simply sounds ‘good’, ‘Brave New World’ sounds extraordinary. In this age of music made in a box, so to speak, this is a record that quietly, like the artist herself, rebels against convention, the end product being something you’ve never heard before, nor will forget. 

“Our mixing engineer, Ron Saint Germain (Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Soundgarden, Kraftwerk) calls them ‘angel frequencies”. Deep under the stately 130 year-old home of a certain very successful businessman, lies a private studio named (fittingly) Subterranean Sound Studios. At the heart of every studio is the recording console, where all sounds flow into and then out - a crucial determinant to the very character of a set of recordings.  At Subterranean though, the desk is unique, it is of legend: The Neve A4792 Air Montserrat, designed by two late, great audio engineering geniuses – Beatles’ producer George Martin, and engineer Rupert Neve - the same recording console that gave the world classic albums like The Police’s ‘Ghost in The Machine’, Paul McCartney’s ‘Tug of War’ and Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers in Arms’.  To put a finer point on it, the board that Andy Summers dances on during the “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” video – that’s the board! Rescued from oblivion after both a hurricane and volcano destroyed George Martin’s Air Montserrat Studio, the Neve board eventually made its way to Subterranean in Toronto.  In the grand plan that was guiding the creation of Brave New World, the Neve A4792 was the proverbial, mythical Holy Grail. As soon as Erin, producer/bassist Thomas McKay and the musicians started laying down the bed tracks, what they heard in playback were the very real “angel frequencies” of the Neve board, an impossible-to-quantify set of extra musical harmonics that coats every track of ‘Brave New World’.

Of course, the potency and endless creativity of the band amplifies (!) everything on ‘Brave New World’, an album stacked with sublime moments of ensemble and solo work from the stellar band of Joel Joseph (keyboards), Dan Miller (drum and keyboard programming), KC Roberts (guitar) and Tony Rabalao (drums).  ‘Brave New World’ is an album of really great playing, and this is a band that offers a dizzying display of musicianship and intuition, making the most of Hunt’s arrangements.  The album closer (and fourth single), “Won’t Give Up” is perhaps the band at its most dynamic and explosive, underpinning the lyric of resilience and faith, then perfectly matching the powerful, insistent refrain that typifies the spirit and drive and exuberance of the whole record, “We don’t give up, we don’t give up, we don’t give up.”  

“We mastered it to tape”, recounts Hunt, “and my goal was always to strike a balance between traditional and electronic instruments.  I wanted that creative tension between analogue and digital, future and past.”  And maybe it is that duality that sums up why ‘Brave New World’ is a beautiful piece of work.   It’s unmistakably forward-sounding while easily reflecting on the best of the past.  It’s technically perfect, Steely Dan level stuff, but is never antiseptic or contrived or indulgent. The lyrics are broad enough to just sound good in your head, but command attention if you choose to give it. You can marvel at the band, but they never dominate.  It’s an album recorded underground, but feels every bit like it was dropped down from the heavens…  

And, it’s an album that most assuredly feels like part of a grand plan, but also simply one (sublime) step in the career of Erin Hunt.