New Zealand singer-songwriter Jonathan Bree brings his discontented chamber pop to the States | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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New Zealand singer-songwriter Jonathan Bree brings his discontented chamber pop to the States



When New Zealand singer-songwriter Jonathan Bree began his solo career in 2013, his creations were almost diametrically opposed to the poppy, upbeat material that he’d crafted in the Brunettes, his longtime project with Heather Mansfield. His first two LPs were melancholy and dour, casting his deep, gloomy, discontented croon in a dark light. But on his 2018 breakthrough and third LP, Sleepwalking (Lil’ Chief), Bree gives his chamber pop a brighter, dreamier, and more intoxicating tone, with nods to 1960s lounge, mod, and French pop. Bree wrote Sleepwalking, like its predecessors, in the confines of his home studio, crafting songs with virtual instruments before musicians brought the arrangements to life. Its aesthetic maintains a beautiful and haunting dichotomy of light and dark, with airy melodies underpinned by romantic yearning as much as disillusionment and cynicism. On “Valentine,” Bree juxtaposes spiteful lyrics about an ex-lover with glistening bells and jangly guitar: “Don't need no precious valentine / Or hear you will be mine all mine / Just want to know you / And hear you’re cheerless too.” That track and several others feature guest vocals from Crystal Choi, Clara Viñals, and Princess Chelsea, which creates a playful male/female dynamic and helps channel the sort of passion and anguish that can come with being in love. Bree and his band, along with accompanying dancers, perform in the creepy, mannequinesque spandex face masks and mop-top wigs that have appeared on his album covers and music videos. It’s a moody and surreal experience.   v

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