I let out an excited, maniacal laugh in private every time a rock musician goes electronic. It’s one of the ways to my heart – put out a solid body of work in a traditional rock ‘n’ roll genre, with guitars and live drums and such; then, one day years later, swerve and release a single that swings the pendulum from classic organic band sound, to full synth sensibility. That’s the journey of Adam Brookes from his previous band Dangermaker, to the launch of his solo career, and his first major single, “Piece of Mind.”
Adam’s done what few musicians can do well, transitioning from band to solo artist while simultaneously radically shifting genres. “Piece of Mind” is exquisite electronic pop, expertly arranged as though he’s been working in this style all along. From the very first wash of vibrating keyboards to the panning, grungy, dirty-bass finish, this song feels like the long lost sequel to your favorite Pet Shop Boys tune from the late ’80s/early ’90s. I’m not talking about the sparse, basic, early-album West End Girls stuff, but something a couple of years later in the PSB catalog, when the musical layers got really full and dense.
It’s probably appropriate then that, in the tradition of PSB’s “Suburbia,” a protest against the squalor and income disparity of 1980’s Los Angeles, Adam’s “Piece of Mind” bemoans the rising tide of gentrification in modern-day San Francisco, and how true art and culture are being priced out of the city. “I live in a part of town that’s been turned upside down,” he sings. “Everyone on the street’s shook down.” Later he cries that “Out in the suburbs, no one’s there; and in the city, we’re so close, but no one cares.” Ouch, my heart. Did I mention sequel to “Suburbia?”
Adam’s intense dystopian future-pop joins an army of artist voices in the Bay Area. We’re railing against the powerful forces of the tech industry and Silicon Valley, and the money pouring in for only an elite few throughout the once-eclectic neighborhoods of San Francisco. Artists here have been mad for a long time now. So, his message is nothing shocking and feels more like an echo than a punch. He keeps it achingly real, but the sting is softened by the last five years of watching SF transform around us.
The real surprise here is Adam himself, the journey he’s taken personally from his former band to the present, and the confident launch of a brand-new sound that is both very Dangermaker, and very not.
I saw Adam recently at the Balanced Breakfast Summit. In between the various panels of experts, we hung out for a hot minute in the main theater of PianoFight, a music venue that sits in the heart of the Tenderloin, at the epicenter of the very changes taking place in the city that he’s singing about. He talked about his vision for the music he makes, how he follows his heart even if it means tough choices in his career. He talked about how going solo is one of those tough, but necessary choices. And he talked a little bit about this new song, how it was written originally in his older, banging-guitar style, and then only recently self-produced and polished with this dark, progressive, new wave feel. “Piece of Mind” underscores the state of Adam today: same man, similar feelings, but evolved, and ready to break out of his comfort zone. I found Adam to be calm, centered and ready. When I knew him as Dangermaker, I was impressed with the music. Now, having met him and heard his transition and his journey into 2020, I’m also deeply impressed with the musician.
Follow Adam’s journey to Neck of the Woods on March 12th, then onward to Jam Cellars on the 14th, and Rickshaw Stop on April 23rd. And check out “Piece of Mind” on Spotify, Soundcloud, or wherever you listen to streaming music.