With his latest EP, Paths We Take, internet weird-house and software artist Brian returns us to his distinctive realm of ordinary life turned bizarre. It’s an EP of four songs, each one describing a chapter in a story that follows two people and their life together as it unfolds. “They meet, fall in love, build a life together, and have a child,” Brian says.
But this worded description is bereft of every emotion the music (and the single accompanying music video) transmits with its synth-driven telepathy. While listening, we can pick out moments of regret, joy, nervousness, and terror in the tones of the music—the minutiae that each lover keeps to themselves as their relationship progresses. As David Lynch detailed the unexpected horror and strangeness of being a parent in the distressing black-and-white film Eraserhead, so, too, does Brian, preferring instead to let it slide off the end of a series of spiraling electronic chords.
The first track, titled “Woo,” is an excitable march of exuberance and energy. It’s the feeling of falling in love turned into a song. There are riffs that dance, percussion that eggs you on to the next strong beat, and a coruscant veil of twinkling chimes hanging over it all as if the endorphins punching you love-drunk upside your head. But pure happiness isn’t something that Brian can endure for more than a single song, as he proves with the rest of the EP, which gradually invites darkness, doubt, and eventually a gentle wash of relief to the table.
This turn is noticeable in the second track, the titular “Paths We Take (The Maze),” which has a narrative made more explicit in its video that many of us will probably be familiar with. The relationship between the two characters has matured but they’re still madly in love at first. In the video, the pair caress each other’s heads with their hands, the two bodies merging as fingers move beyond the plasma-like skin and into the hollow inside. It reminds me of Švankmajer’s Passionate Dialogue, in which two people composed of clay lovingly embrace one another. Švankmajer uses their clay forms to merge the two during the process, supposing their fusion to be a sexual act, becoming one in love. Brian seems to suggest the same.
But then a snap. Perhaps everything moved too fast, it was all going a little too well, as one of the lovers runs out of the house and into a giant maze. The euphoria of the track’s beginning high notes fade suddenly and now there is only serious contemplation and alarm bells. As the lover runs, his face stretches and morphs into monstrous shapes, becoming uglier and more horrifying as the neck stretches, then twists right around. All the while the face seems to scream silently in an expression of terror. Eventually, just as his body becomes its own wreck of emotions—being pulled in every direction, not knowing to pursue this love or abandon it—we return to his lover, who is fawning over pictures of them together before running to retrieve him, entering the maze and the rest of their turmoil and life together.
The remaining two tracks seem a little less complex in their meaning. Though, saying that, you could argue that track three, “Birth,” is perhaps the most conflicted of the entire EP. It’s half-filled with the repetitive cries of what it is suggested is a newborn baby along with the stabs of a horror film score, while the rest of the sounds between these verses seem more uplifting, as if to acknowledge the miracle of child birth and to congratulate the parents.
Finally, there’s “Lullaby,” which sends us off to sleep with its quilted electric strings and cosmic tune. For the parents, it is a rare peace, settling down as a family, which brings the EP to a tranquil end. It’s an end that many may relate to, and if you’re not that far along yet, then perhaps one of the earlier stages of falling in love depicted in the former three songs. And that seems to be what distinguishes “Paths We Take” from Brian’s previous music, having us see part of ourselves in the worlds he realizes through his music, whereas before we were distant observers meant to feel estranged from whatever the hell we were observing.