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Live At the Aquarium

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Album Review

Having an album release party in the London Zoo's Aquarium, where the emphasis would no doubt be on stillness, hush and the haunting beauty of the deep, just suits most 4AD label releases to begin with. Given that Brook is known for his mysterious, spare guitar work makes this record of the solo concert he gave there upon the appearance of Cobalt Blue all that more appropriate. Reproducing much of the content of that album but in a different running order, Aquarium consists solely of Brook, his guitar and preset synth/rhythm patterns. The result is quite fascinating; whether a listener thinks that the more stripped-down overall sound of the songs here works better as a result or prefers the generally lusher textures of the studio release must ultimately be up to individual judgment. What is beyond question is the skill Brook uses on his instrument, which, thankfully, never transforms into pointless showing off. Those used to his 'infinite guitar' sounds thanks to the likes of U2 might well be surprised at the understated serenity of the performance. Even the most specifically Edge-sounding number, "Ultramarine," sounds more like a calm run-through of one of the Irish musician's pieces instead of a full-on rock-out. The medley of "After Image/Urbana" is an excellent all-around showcase. The first song consists of low E-bow-tinged guitar lines, quite relaxed and soothing all around, while the second is initially all down to just soft strums and a buried rhythm loop. When the song's main melody begins, Brook's performance is at once heartwrenching and soaring, then further supplemented by the increased rhythm punch from his keyboard set-up. If one standout has to be selected, the majestic version of "Lakbossa" is the clear winner. Brook's utterly compelling work is simply jawdropping, tender and as big as all outdoors at once.


Born: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: World

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The innovative guitarist and producer Michael Brook was born and raised in Toronto. While studying electronic music and the arts at the University of Toronto, he met trumpeter Jon Hassell, with whom he later toured; through Hassell, Brook also was introduced to minimalist composer LaMonte Young, under whom he studied Indian music. A period working as the house engineer at producer Daniel Lanois' famed Grant Avenue recording studio led to a tenure playing guitar with the Canadian pop band Martha &...
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