Resolver – Playground – Review

ResolverNYC-based Resolver is the indie brainchild of Brendan Cavanagh. On his 2018 full-length Playground, Cavanagh explores his sonic palette in full, providing listeners with a dense, beautiful soundscape in which one can easily get lost. Cavanagh plays almost every instrument and also contributes to the production side of things, with additional contributions by Stephanie Griffith (viola) and Alec Budd (synths/production/mixing/mastering).

Resolver – Playground

The album opener, “Temporary Evil” has sort of mathy-Indie vibe; it’s not metal but has the musically sophisticated posture of metal. The song starts with white noise textures, which gives way to choppy guitar and melodic bass. Syncopated drums eventually enter and provide a seductive push-pull to the beat of the song. As the vocals join the fray, the song begins to alternate between syncopated verses and more straight-beat choruses. The vocals discuss the futility of attempts to repress a true inner self, even if that inner self is dark and disturbing. In the chorus, Cavanagh sings: “There’s no use to in trying to hide the beast inside / you need to keep alive.” After a cycle of two verses and choruses, the music takes a slight left turn, building into a climactic soundscape with Cavanagh repeating the mantra “everything” while the rhythm section emphasizes syncopated accents. The song finally ends with only guitar and vocals, the rest of the arrangement slowly fading into the background.

“Quiet Future” begins with vocals and clean guitar, which are quickly joined by a full rhythm section. The music hits a stop time chorus with the only instrument we hear being a brassy-synth pad, and Cavanagh moves into falsetto as he sings “Reflecting the sunset / somewhere away from here / the water is warm / and I have no fear”, a transcendent moment sure to give a listener chills. The chorus is repeated as the rest of the arrangement returns, creating a temporary climax that falls way to another verse. After we return to the transcendence of the chorus, the song climaxes in full, leaving the listener in warm awe of the power of music.

The eighth track is titled “The Knife”, a high-energy romp through tremolo-picked guitars and further syncopated beats. Cavanagh’s use of rhythm throughout this record is quite a standout, as well as his guitar playing. To be able to take two quite common elements of popular music and use them in such unique and interesting ways is no small feat. The sonic textures he creates underneath help to expand the sound into the stratosphere and beyond. On the constructive criticism side, at times there are repeated musical tropes used on the album, which can create a sense of songs sounding alike. However, there is enough sonic variety to Playground that overall the album still sounds cohesive without being overly repetitive.

The penultimate track, “Magnolia”, features Stephanie Griffith on viola. Her haunting playing opens the track and sets the stage for the enigmatic music to come. The music rises and falls, incorporating a full arrangement before allowing almost everything to drop out into silence, but Griffith’s playing is ever-present throughout the journey, a constant companion to the listener from beginning to end.

From beginning to end, Playground is a tour-de-force, showcasing every aspect of Resolver and Cavanagh’s musical acumen, from his technical abilities to his compositional ones. It is a musical journey in every sense of the phrase, and it manages to fall into that special category of art that can be either an enjoyable escape or an emotional experience.

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