“There ain’t been nothin’ ain’t been said before.”
Briston Maroney says it best himself. His Sept. 22 release, Ultrapure, checks all the boxes on the indie rock, indie folk checklist — killer guitar riffs, scratchy vocals and lyrics about love and growing up. Nonetheless, Ultrapure truly doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before. The record is perfectly alkaline — it’s nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Though it’s clear that Maroney’s music has progressed since his American Idol days, Ultrapure still falls just short of what makes an album, well, memorable. He starts off strong — “Intro” is a beautiful lead into the rest of the album. Maroney sings over the simple backdrop of an acoustic guitar and chirping birds, encapsulating the record’s namesake as he croons “I was born to forgive you/ Ultrapure like a child.” The track is fresh and honest — a strong start to an album that otherwise falters.
Maroney does a good job of choosing his initial three-track run — the songs are different enough to hold separately not becoming a gelatinous, guitar-ridden blob as the middle of the record does. From “Body,” which can be best described as an angsty, nostalgic cowboy anthem to “Breathe,” a poppier, anxiety-ridden track that urges listeners to “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” Maroney displays his range and sincere artistry in the exposition of the album.
Unfortunately, this winning streak is cut short. Ultrapure begins to falter as soon as you get to the meat of it. Maroney’s Midas touch swiftly falls away. Instead of the magnetic, pleasant surprises of his first few tracks, listeners are met with generic sad guitars. Maroney relies on bleak repetition to power himself through a song.
His lyrical vignettes, once charming, begin to run themselves into the ground. Each line details a vague personal experience or a broad generalization on romantic relationships that you could get from turning on the TV and watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. His lyrics leave listeners feeling either strangely voyeuristic or like they’re listening to the pitch for a soap opera.
Ultrapure bores with brief pockets of wonder and reprieve. Just when you think you’re in for a full three minutes of either lethargic guitar or a slightly happier stomp-clap track, Maroney swoops in with musical perfection — a guitar glissando that scratches an itch in your brain, a brief second of electronic bliss to save an otherwise trite song.
Ultrapure’s strength lies in instrumentation. It’s artistry glimmers when you listen for the strum of a guitar or the twinkling of piano keys — both of which are played by Maroney himself. His role as co-producer, alongside Daniel Tashian, only further demonstrates his talent as a multi-instrumentalist and producer. Every little sound has its purpose. Maroney has the uncanny ability to make his humble indie soundscapes symphonic, layering in childhood nostalgia with snippets of nature sounds and voicemails from loved ones.
“Ultrapure,” the title track, closes off the record. Perhaps the most heartfelt song on the tracklist, it almost makes up for the mid-album slump. “Take care, I love you and I’m so proud of you. Be smart, be safe, and I’ll come see you later” — a grainy voicemail starts off the track before a soft guitar begins playing. Forming a continuity with “Intro,” the record returns to its starting point. With a female voice harmonizing his raspy vocals, the album’s closer is simultaneously ethereal and comforting. Where some of the other more acoustic tracks are trite, “Ultrapure” distinguishes itself in its vulnerability and simplicity.
Yes, Ultrapure does feel like a predictable indie folk album at times — but not for lack of trying. Where Maroney fails with lyricism, he excels in musicality and production. In a record that is otherwise lackluster, Ultrapure shines when you least expect it.