Teething is the debut album from transient singer-songwriter Alex Knight aka Brightness. I use the term transient in reference to his storied propensity for uprooting himself and how it colours the narrative, and indeed the music itself, surrounding his debut.
In no way is it a dig at the potential longevity of his career in music. If I was to address that matter in relation to the strength of Teething, I would say unequivocally that he is destined to be around for a good while. This guy is the real deal.
Knight’s outsider disposition, conveyed through sharp, inquisitive lyrics and a wide-eyed vocal delivery, is the glue that binds the otherwise diverse collection of songs found on Teething.
Knight produced Teething in the confines of his bedroom while nearing the end of a six year stint in London. In recent interviews he has spoken candidly of the frustration and sense of alienation that he experienced during this period, splitting his time between drumming for Canvas Kites and his own fledgling solo endeavours.
The songs that appear on Teething are cut from one of two markedly different sheaves of cloth. On the one hand there is the intimate, predominately acoustic balladry of Talk To Me, Surrender and Waltz. These tracks loosely fit into what is often (see: too often) pigeon-holed as “singer-songwriter” music. Conversely, tracks such as Oblivion, Holy John and Queen Bee appear to have been knowingly produced to ward off all manner of ill-fitting genre mantles.
The effect is a release that’s confident in its own skin; fluid in style but not identity. It’s in this way that Knight aligns himself with chameleon artists such as Villagers, Bright Eyes, Cat Power and even David Bowie. He’s an artist far more interested in how he can use genre rather than existing within one. While this may prove a headache for record executives and other industry professionals, it’s often a sign of lasting creativity and original vision.
Or to put it simply: the stuff that matters.
Indeed, Teething is an an interesting title for a release that, while undeniably containing the hallmarks of a debut, arrives as such a fully formed statement.
That said, not every track here is an unqualified success. At times Knight appears to lean on lo-fi production techniques and fuzz in a slightly discomfiting way. Holy John takes an interesting premise: an examination of factors leading up to the beheading of John the Baptist, but fails to colour the narrative in a unique way.
The relevance of the story to the artist is never really established. This means that when the music becomes more unwieldy, the song itself is nudged uncomfortably close to bedroom jam territory. The inherent emotionality within the song is undermined.
Not every rock song needs a grand purpose, especially when it’s as musically unusual and creepy as Holy John. However, as soon as following track Waltz begins and Knight sings “where to start, I guess you already know your the love of my life” it is apparent what was missing. An emotional centre, or better yet a turn, is a necessity in this kind of music, and in no way incompatible with fuzzy guitars. Album opener Oblivion, one of the strongest tracks on the album, establishes this from the start.
It isn’t a matter of Knight needing to reinvent the wheel here. The way forward lies in emphasising already present elements that combine to make Teething such an engaging and promising listen.
With this added consistency and focus it isn’t hard to see Brightness becoming a true household name. A pretty remarkable turnaround from a guy that, until recently, seemed to be running away from the music world. It’s a trick that makes you yearn for the second act.