Since announcing his arrival with 2001′s Tiger Pop, New York-based artist John Brodeur has produced a series of critically praised recordings as a solo artist and as frontman for The Suggestions and Maggie Mayday. Brodeur is a one-man band in the tradition of Todd Rundgren and Jon Brion, whose work has earned comparisons to Elliott Smith, Beck, Matthew Sweet and Robyn Hitchcock. Live, his presentation combines classic troubadour stylings with manic feats of looping and layering.
The culmination of several years of “writing and re-writing, recording and re-recording,” Brodeur’s new album LITTLE HOPES finds the restless performer tackling both matters of the heart and battles of the soul while leaping from quirky bedroom-pop to the kind of breezy guitar rock Performing Songwriter called “power pop at its finest.” These recordings balance the artist’s expansive arrangement instincts with his love of lo-fi recording techniques, matching introspective but relatable lyrics to simple, memorable melodies. The result is a confident, tuneful collection that brims with personality—the sound of an artist staying unapologetically true to his own vision.
Brodeur performed, produced, and mixed Little Hopes primarily himself, with input from Troy Pohl (Sean Rowe) and Dominick Campana (Dryer). Recording took place at several upstate New York studios and bedrooms and at Brodeur’s home studio in Manhattan, using 4- and 8-track cassette machines, Pro Tools, and other recording devices. Mastering and additional mixing was added by Grammy winner Michael Tudor (Duncan Sheik, the Strokes) at Mama’s Place in Woodstock, NY.
Lyrically, these 10 songs are bound by the common themes of self-improvement and second chances. “Customarily, to say one has ‘little hope’ is to say they are in a dire situation,” says Brodeur. “By pluralizing the phrase, I wanted to focus on the ideas and dreams we cling to when we are at our lowest points—the little hopes that help to pull us out of those dark places.”
Dig for your soul like it’s buried alive / Dig until light comes through the other side, sings Brodeur on the unofficial title track “Dig,” a skittering waltz beat underpinning the song’s psychedelic overtones.
“Be Careful” opens the set with a playful hand-clap rhythm, swelling keyboards, and a simple note of positivity: Wait in line / Be patient / All in due time. “Neil Young” further stresses the importance of looking forward. All these things will pass if you want them to, sings Brodeur, paraphrasing the late George Harrison. The title honors the legendary artist that Brodeur considers his “spirit animal,” while the song’s loose Americana groove ironically resembles that of “Sweet Home Alabama”—Lynyrd Skynyrd’s dis track to a young Mr. Young.
“I saw this album as an opportunity to redirect the tone of my writing,” Brodeur says. “Where some of my past material might have lingered on darkness or bitterness, these songs are balanced by a sense of optimism. The darkness is still present, but there’s an emphasis on the possibility of positive change.”
The album’s not entirely about heavy spiritual stuff. The frenetic “One Man Army” is a rock & roll announcement about “having the dignity to admit you need help with the heavy lifting.” This one also comes with an ironic twist, in that Brodeur performed the dense arrangement by himself. And “Favorite Feeling” is an ecstatic ode to joy that brings to mind power-pop heavies like Jellyfish and Matthew Sweet.
Brodeur continues his fine tradition of cracked love songs with the multi-layered strum of “Oh My!” and the alt-rock-flavored “You Kill Me.”
“There’s no blame or hard feelings in those songs,” says Brodeur. “Just lonely people looking for something comfortable.”
Rounding out the set is “Spit It Out,” a new take on a song Brodeur recorded with former band, Maggie Mayday. Happy birthday on the phone / 3 A.M. / You took 30 pills goes the unforgettable opening line of the melancholy rocker that Nippertown called “re-purposed to great effect [with] stanza after stanza of world-class lyrics.”
Little Hopes is just one entry in Brodeur’s busy itinerary. Over the past few years he’s collaborated live or in the studio with a dozen acts, including U.S. tours drumming for Australian rockers The Morning After Girls and rekindled Philadelphia shoegaze band Highspire; plus stints as bassist for Brooklyn power-pop outfit The Robin Electric and as lead guitarist with psych-blues duo Golden Animals. In 2012, Brodeur made a cameo appearance in the “Lazuli” music video by Beach House.
Just this year, Brodeur has appeared at the S.S. Cape May Festival (NJ), Move Music Festival (NY), and Hudson Music Fest (NY); and played tour dates with Todd Park Mohr, Trixie Whitley, and Benjamin Francis Leftwich.
Little Hopes follows the May release of non-album single “Daily Affirmation” on NYC label Family Records. View the “Daily Affirmation” lyric video.
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John Brodeur has toured or shared stages with Greg Laswell, Scud Mountain Boys/Joe Pernice, Fountains of Wayne, They Might Be Giants, Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), TV On The Radio, O.A.R., Mike Doughty, the Whigs, the Bravery, Gavin Degraw, and many more. He has performed at CMJ, SXSW, WordXWord (Pittsfield, MA), EQXFest (Saratoga NY), and Tulip Festival (Albany NY); and his music has been used on NBC, A&E, VH1 and Discovery.