Over the course of this site’s nearly ten-year history — yes, ten years! — I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering the critically applauded, Austin, TX-based Latin funk-based outfit and JOVM mainstays Brownout. Now, as may recall the act was formed over a decade ago as a side project that has composed and arranged music that at points evokes the likes of WAR, Cymande and Funkadelic that features members of the Grammy Award-winning Latin funk act Grupo Fantasma. Interestingly, during that same period of time, the project has managed to evolve into its own unique, critically applauded effort, completely separate from the members primary gigs — while having a long-held reputation as being a highly sought-after backing band, collaborating with GZA, Prince, Daniel Johnston and Bernie Worrell.
Adding to a growing profile, the act has toured across the national festival circuit, playing at Bonnaroo, High Sierra Music Festival, Pickathon, Bear Creek Musical Festival, Utopia Festival, Pachanga Fest, and others in support of the act’s handful of EPs and their six full-length albums — 2008’s Homenaje, 2009’s Aguilas and Cobras, 2012’s Oozy, 2015’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, 2016’s Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, Vol. II and 2018’s Brownout Presents: Fear of a Brown Planet.
Slated for a March 6, 2020 release through Fat Beats Records, the Steve Berlin-produced Berlin Sessions is the Austin-based JOVM mainstays’ full-length album of original material from the band in over eight years. Interestingly, while the album continues an ongoing collaboration with Berlin, it’s also the first album of original material featuring lead vocalist Alex Marrero, who collaborated with the band on the band’s successful Brown Sabbath albums. Sonically, the album reportedly finds the band drawing from and meshing a multitude of sounds and genres including rock, psych rock, Latin funk and breakbeat.
The album evolved shortly after the Fear of a Brown Planet sessions. Recorded during hot Texas summer afternoons in Beto Martinez’s Buda, TX-based Lechehouse Music Studio, many of the album’s takes were recorded with the AC off — and with the temperature well past the 90s. And as a result, the sessions captured the enthusiasm, sweat and swiftness of a band eager to record their first batch of new, original material in close to a decade. “The ideas came swift and there was much experimentation in recording techniques and instrument usage,” Brownout’s Beto Martinez says in press notes. “Steve Berlin was very hands on with implementing new sounds and tones through effects or otherwise. I not only played on the record but recorded it at the same time. After placing mics and setting the recording gear, I had to play parts I had either just written or just learned all while watching meters and the tape machine to make sure it was all recording correctly with Steve Berlin sitting directly behind me. It was a nerve wracking and trying experience, yet a very fulfilling learning process.”
With the addition of Marrero as the band’s full-time vocalist, Brownout’s material features a lyrical depth and themes that the instrumental albums simply didn’t exude. “As I started writing lyrics for Berlin Sessions, I noticed there were more abstract yet universal themes,” Brownout’s Alex Marrero says in press notes. “Writing in a way that doesn’t spell everything out directly. They can mean anything to anyone depending on what they need it to. Although seemingly ambiguous, all the songs ended up having a lyrical thread and thematic connection of stepping outside of your physical realm and connecting to a more universal energy. Fighting for your individuality. Healing and processing our human emotions, connections and turmoil with a sense of awareness that we are still connected to something outside of what we consider ‘physical reality.’ It’s about overcoming your problems, the cards you’ve been dealt in life or just enhancing your personal connections by acknowledging we cannot be defined strictly by how the material world has laid ‘reality’ out to us; especially not societal norms and expectations. There is a bigger truth we just keep forgetting to look at. I don’t mean religion, I mean energy.”
The swaggering, arena rock friendly “Somewhere To Go” is Berlin Session’s first single. Centered around a propulsive and funky groove, the enormous horn section that they’re known for and Latin percussion, the song is an uplifting anthem that the band says is about tackling complacency by taking chances.
Brownout will be celebrating the Berlin Sessions album release with a pair of shows at Austin’s 3TEN ACL Live on March 6, 2020 and March 7, 2020 with more national dates to be announced. “I think the history and evolution of this band is being captured and showcased well in our live shows,” Brownout’s Alex Marrero says in press notes. “We’re perfecting the marriage of the instrumental catalog of the band and the newer material where I can step away from the percussion and serve as full-on front man for the songs that require it. It makes for an exciting live performance.”