Laser Focus

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Sometimes, events happen in our lives that galvanize us.  They cause us to attack the tasks before us with a renewed focus and vigor.  These events can be quite varied in nature: a new relationship, getting passed over for a promotion at work, or the spurring on of a trusted mentor.  In the case of Lindsey Stirling, it appears that the catalyst was the death of her good friend Jason Gaviati.

Brave Enough is an intensely focused and tightly wound album.  I get the impression that Lindsey knew exactly what she was going to structure the album around before most of the songwriting, and kept every lyric, every note, and every dubstep beat organized toward that goal.  Also in service of that goal, Lindsey abandoned all subtlety and ambiguousness in this album, even in the liner notes, where she explains how the album chronicles her efforts to not only fight through the pain of Gavi’s death, but also prevent herself from constructing emotional walls that would have enabled her to numb it.  This gives the album a more universal and widely applicable theme.

For the most part, her mission is accomplished.  The album follows a path that starts with learning to be vulnerable, followed by the fight to gain back identity and purpose, then to learning to accept and deal with pain, which enables one to have the confidence to take risks.  Most every song very clearly embodies the aspects of this journey that Lindsey intends, right down to “The Phoenix,” where the sound of embers and flames is followed by a dramatic glissando sound that gives the clear mental image of rising up out of said flames, a motif which is repeated in the second half of the song.  She also does an excellent job with matching her dubstep beats with her violin parts in a way that they complement each other well, such as on “The Arena,” which reminds me of her breakout hit “Crystallize,” where everything seems to sync up exactly right. Such straightforward accessibility is rare and appreciated (it’s the main reason Creed and Alanis Morissette are two of my favorite artists), even if it does occasionally feel like Lindsey is smacking the audience over the head with it.

The album’s cohesion also comes at the expense of experimentation.  Lindsey’s first two albums featured her going all over the place with different styles, from the danceable “Crystallize,” to the peaceful and much more classically-inclined “Song of the Caged Bird,” to the hard rock edge of “Shatter Me.”  In contrast, Brave Enough is pretty energetic and dubstep beat-driven throughout, without many ventures into classical or rock territory, or any new style.   This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but fans who appreciated her inventiveness may not find as much to appreciate here.

As on her previous album, Lindsey does a great job of recruiting guest singers when needed.  In particular, Andrew McMahon’s appearance on the track “Something Wild,” is particularly good, as he not only lends his superior vocals to the effort, but also his piano, which adds another layer to an album that was getting a touch repetitive by that point.  Christina Perri does a solid job conveying the vulnerability echoed in the lyrics of “Brave Enough.”  While I was glad to hear that Rivers Cuomo would be on the album, his performance almost feels secondary to Lecrae’s in “Don’t Let This Feeling Fade,” and I kind of wish they’d let Lecrae have one more rap sequence in it rather than Rivers’s repetitive chorus, or made the song a little longer.  It felt like they were trying to cram a bit too much into three and half minutes.

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Andrew McMahon is probably the most effective guest vocalist on Brave Enough.

Overall, this album is every bit as good as Lindsey’s previous efforts, and stands alongside them very well in her catalog.  It’s a little different than what her fans are probably used to hearing, but that shouldn’t prevent them from buying it.  Some of her best work is on this album, so if you’re a music fan, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.

Track picks:

“The Arena”

“Something Wild” (ft. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness)

“Brave Enough” (ft. Christina Perri)

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