Bryan Estepa’s new six-song EP is a paean to hope and recovery: a sprightly affair that wouldn’t be out of place in the company of records by Matthew Sweet, mid-career Elvis Costello, and The Wondermints.
The singer-songwriter landscape has always donned a dull gray. All of the genre’s landmark releases—from After the Gold Rush to Pink Moon to Either/Or—has pretty much approximated a brooding teenager’s monochromatic wardrobe. But we all know that while misery looks great in rust, it can also come in aging moss, a deathly-pale yellow, even a tragically clueless cerulean.
Listening to Bryan Estepa tells us as much, and his sprightly new six-song EP Back to the Middle is a great testament to that. A record devoted to themes of “moving forward and seeing the silver lining,” Estepa’s latest offering is the longform follow-up to 2019’s Sometimes I Just Don’t Know, which the decorated Australian critic Bernard Zuel described as being “concentrated in its writing, playing, sound and intent.”
While Estepa has an offhand knack for earworm-inducing melody, it is this sense of concentration and deliberateness—in arrangement, production, and temperament—which makes Back to the Middle an engaging listen. The title track alone, with its British Invasion jangle-rock, ropes the listener in. But it’s the relentless bubblegum of “Everything You Wanted” and the magnificent chordal meanderings of “Admit Now, Pay Later” which take the cake.
“I wanted this record to have some light and shade but wanted it to be a joyful affair, too,” Estepa says.
To top it all, an inspired rendering of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline favorite “I Threw It All Away” balances things out nicely with its country-laced timbre.
Back to the Middle was produced by multi-awarded Australian music mainstay Josh Pyke, whose ideas and production values Estepa embraced in the process, resulting in “what I think are some of the strongest tunes I have released over my ‘career’,” the musician asserts. To say that Pyke—whose own discography is as multifaceted as it is singular in vision—elevated the songs to a Great Sonic Elsewhere wouldn’t be pushing hyperbole.
“It was a thrill watching Josh’s creative process as his ideas come thick and fast, and he needed to get them down before it disappeared.”
Spy-eye heartbreak through the lens of Bryan Estepa and the buoyant guitar pop of his new EP. I promise you, it won’t be gray.