Be Brave Bold Robot’s album Under A Thin Veil Of Madness begins with a track dedicated to the narrator (presumably lead vocalist Dean Haakenson)’s mother. The song, aptly titled “Mamasong,” includes lines that demonstrate appreciation for parents like “I do everything I do, cuz I watched you do it first / and growing up is never easy, but it could’ve been far worse.”
While the song is a charming and lovely tribute to the way Haakenson’s mother raised him, listeners of Be Brave Robot should thank the lady, too. After all she’s the woman responsible for birthing an immensely talented and delightfully strange folk singer from Sacramento, CA.
Haakenson possesses one of those shaky voices that can trace its lineage back to Bob Dylan. Like Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes or Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou, Haakenson’s voice sounds as if it’s trembling with overwhelming emotion as it speaks such clever words.
The singer also varies his vocal style throughout the album. On “The One Thousand Dollar Grape Drive-By,” for instance, Haakenson demonstrates his rapidfire, talk-singing/rapping skills. On the song, the singer spews out lyrics at a Tech N9ne-like pace about an assassin that uses grapes instead of guns to carry out his hits. It’s this truly oddball type of weirdness that makes Be Bold Brave Robot so endearing. The wacky premise of “The One Thousand Dollar Grape Drive-By” could only be conceived by a mad genius with a knack for storytelling, and it’s delivery could only come from a band with such talent. Cattie Turner’s voila accentuates the rollicking rhythms of drummer Mike Ruiz and bassist J. Matthew Gerken.
Many of the songs on Under A Thin Veil Of Madness contain humor that lazy listeners will find easy to miss. On the surface, “A contained stream” seems like a somber folk ballad, complete with sweeping strings and heartfelt lyricism that mentions things like “the assurance of comfort that only women can bring.” If you listen to the rest of the lyrics, however, you’ll realize that the song’s about peeing— both sitting and standing up, in public and in private, away from and/or too-close to germs, and in the same toilet that women use. The song utilizes straightforwardly humorous imagery like “I’m addicted to sitting on the toilet.” But a deeper message could also be squeezed out (pun slightly intended) of the lyrics. When Haakenson says “A household of dry toilet seats / and no one could ruin it but me,” he’s discussing the problems associated with being the lone male in a female-dominated household.
Discussion and praise of the opposite sex are common themes elsewhere on the album. There’s even a track called “Keep the women happy,” which is a reworking of a song found on the group’s 2007 debut album. The new version is slightly altered, although the general instrumentation and lyricism remain intact. There’s also “Grammasong,” in which Haakenson details how much the woman responsible for the woman discussed in “Mamasong” meant to him.
The women of the band also rise to the forefront of the songs on occasion, as the aforementioned Catie Turner delivers strong viola accompaniment and Carly Duhain contributes vocals. “This song’s about old people kissing” uses a dual vocal scheme in which the male perspective of the song is sung by a male singer, and the female perspective is sung by a female. The song is twangier and more upbeat than most of the other tracks, and it contains an electric guitar part that serves as a welcome break from the otherwise acoustic-driven composition.
But, overall, the acoustic folkiness of Under A Thin Veil Of Madness is what ties the songs together. The album is a collection of songs by Be Brave Bold Robot. Some are old, some are new, but all of them were recorded with the intention of being released on this cohesive work. The talented musicians of Be Brave Bold Robot perform those tracks with relentless fury, teetering on the edge of chaos but always landing in-sync and in time. A thin veil of madness, if you will, covering a well-composed score.