Let's get this out of the way right now: Stephen Brodsky is the definition of an underappreciated genius. I'm guessing this is probably the first time you're hearing his name, but the man is one of today's greatest living songwriters.
Best known as the frontman for Cave In, a band of such varied talents that it went from doing death metal to radio-friendly pop rock in less than five years, Brodsky also has an astonishing musical empire all to himself. To simply know him and follow the many paths of his career is to unlock a vast song catalog you won't believe you went so long without knowing about.
In addition to two great solo releases, he's also headed the Octave Museum, a pitch-perfect indie group that deserved an audience exponentially greater than it ever found, and the minimalist rock group Pet Genius. Only a year after Pet Genius' debut, Brodsky's at it again with another solo release, "The Black Ribbon Award" (released under the alias Stove Bredsky). The album blitzes through 18 songs in less than an hour.
There's not a bad song to be found here, but the bulkiness of the album is its greatest flaw. Compared to many of Brodsky's other releases, which usually come in around a half-hour in length, "The Black Ribbon Award" is surprisingly overstuffed. There are plenty of treasures, of course -- how could there not be? Brodsky tackles rejection with his signature caustic wit in "Spacegirl Saturn" ("As I tripped into her orbit/She did not disapprove nor reward it/She gave me plenty of room to hit my head on the ground"), shows off his delicate acoustic prowess in "Orange Sunshine Medicine" and "Return to Rain," crams a lot of quirks into two-minute affairs like "Dead of Winter" and "Blood Red Blues," and manages to sound downright scary when channeling dread in "Chine" and "Prospect Hill."
But for every amazing song on "The Black Ribbon Award," there's a few that don't measure up. Songs like "Splatterbrain," "The Coattail Rider" and "Fall Days" simply don't have enough vigor in them to prevent diluting the album. Not one of the four instrumental tracks is needed. Even some of the rather good moments, like the fuzzed out "Dead Battery" and "Failure," don't feel absolutely necessary. The truly great moments on "The Black Ribbon Award" are spaced out when they should have run one after another. It's a noble misstep, and one that shouldn't be criticized too harshly -- Brodsky is too great to turn out an album that isn't worth listening to, and he supposedly has yet another solo effort due out later this year. But as a whole, "The Black Ribbon Award" is easier to admire than enjoy. KEY TRACKS: "Spacegirl Saturn," "Orange Sunshine Medicine"
Jason Silverstein is a senior at Williamsville North High School.