Holly Brook’s music may sound light and airy at first blush but don’t let that fool you; she’s a champion of dark-side exploration, submerging herself in her emotional depths.
O’Dark Thirty is a military reference to the time of day between midnight and dawn, the time that Brook inhabits, conjuring up her musical confessions and committing them to tape. It’s a time of day reserved for the lonely, the displaced, the heavy-hearted and the inspired. Brook is all of these and probably more.
The effect of the seven songs on the O’Dark Thirty EP are subtle. The arrangements are sparse for the most part, the tones are hushed. But the power lurking in these tracks will hook you subliminally and powerfully. Before long you’ll hear one of these melodies in your head; strange, sorrowful and beautiful. The first of these will probably be “It’s Raining Again,” a mid-tempo piano-based pop song with Brook’s trademark breathy vocals and a simple twist of phrasing.
Each of the EP’s songs are metaphors for relationships and the pain of parting. Brook, who is still quite young (in her mid-twenties), may also be ruminating over the separation of innocence and experience, not all of which is pleasant. The last three years have been particularly turbulent for Brook, who struggled with two dissolutions, one in her personal life and one with her record label.
Duncan Sheik has figured prominently in her life during this period and he, along with former companion Jon Ingoldsby, produced the recording. The arrangements are minimalist, allowing Brook to be at her most impassioned. Only “Man on the Mountaintop” temporarily escapes the melancholy and here Brook sounds most like Sarah McLachlan, a comparison that’s often made. But where McLachlan becomes melodramatic, Brook remains genuine, looking herself straight in the heart. Elsewhere, Brook explores electro-pop on “Grey,” where major-key harmonies shield minor-key expression.
The other noticeable trait on this outing is the use of orchestra, which, along with the drums, adds weight to the already heavy subject matter in “Ordinary Tune.” The orchestra, and selected components thereof, show up elsewhere, particularly on “Dry (I’m Your River)” and the finale “Falling Out of View,” which has Brook switching to guitar. Here, if you listen closely, you can hear the drums, so far back in the mix as to be barely discernible.
Brook has been to the dark side but all indications are that the tables are turning. She’s landed a new management deal and an exciting new production deal. As Brook sings in “Haunted,” All these specters need a better place to go.” Holly Brook’s journey is just begun and her career is likely to be long and successful. Here’s hoping some happiness seeps in through all the grey.