They say good things come to those who wait, and that more than applies to Brick + Mortar's debut LP, Meta Meta Etc. Over the past decade, the Asbury Park-based duo of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon have honed their multifarious sound, spanning sweet synth-pop and variants of electric psych to mind-expanding pop and the doomy drum sounds of hard rock - all of which are encapsulated on Meta Meta Etc. The album is a testament to sticking to your guns no matter what the circumstances, as well as to always questioning the systems in place that make your life harder. Not only that - it sounds pretty damn good, too.
The pair grew up in southern New Jersey in a town called Toms River, but it took a minute for them to come together as bandmates. Tacon started playing drums at a young age, playing with metal and hardcore bands with band members that were often older than him: "I was just happy to play," he sheepishly states, while Asraf testifies, "He was always going to be an amazing musician." He met Asraf near the end of middle school and the two became fast friends despite the type of tussles any adolescent is familiar with: "I picked on him a lot because he was the new kid, and he was kind of a dick," he laughs. "But I was kind of a dick, too."
"When we met, I was really depressed and needed to find something to attach myself to," Asraf states. His childhood was fraught with trauma and trust issues; after his father was revealed to be running a diamond-smuggling ring in New Jersey, he fled the country and disappeared from Asraf's life entirely. There was a void to be filled, and music had turned out to be the perfect activity to fill it with; Asraf got bit by the musical bug after witnessing Tacon in one of the many bands he did time in during high school. "I knew when I saw John that I wanted that," he says. "I didn't have confidence to know I could have it, though."
Asraf picked up his bass soon after and started jamming instrumentally with Tacon under the moniker of Black Rhythm. "We'd play any show we could get," Tacon explains, "and got to a point where we wanted to grow." While Tacon drew from his hard-rock background and eclectic listening habits, Asraf was entering the musical world while starting from scratch - which turned out to be a key element of their success. "He was an open book," Tacon reminisces about the early days with his bandmate. "The fact that he didn't listen to any specific genre of music and wanted to explore was a big part of who we became."
Around the time he turned 25 years old, Asraf dug deep and tapped into his previously unexplored singing and lyricist abilities: "I always knew I had something to say, but I didn't have the self-confidence to say it." After some woodshedding, the pair changed their name to Brick + Mortar and self-released their debut EP, 7 Years in the Mystic Room, in 2010. "I felt like I was able to be in control," Asraf remembers about the release. "I wanted to write songs that meant something, and that's the direction we went in."
A few years later, the band signed to major-label imprint Photo Finish, through which they released the Bangs EP in 2013. Paired with a star-making appearance at SXSW the year before, things were looking on the up-and-up for Brick + Mortar - until label woes kicked in. A year after being signed, they were unceremoniously dropped from Photo Finish, but through a few legal loopholes were able to retain possession of the music they'd worked on while being signed, compiling said material as part of the Dropped EP in 2015.
While languishing for a few years in label limbo, the pair began working on Meta Meta Etc. in late 2015. "We didn't mean to take a long time, but the legal stuff made it take a little longer," Asraf explains. "It was more challenging, but I'm glad it was that hard. We learned so much from struggling, and we wanted to do the record ourselves." Together, Asraf and Tacon took the lessons learned from working with various producers over the years and made the record themselves, pouring their literal hearts and souls into the final product.
Meta Meta Etc's 13 tracks take cues from a variety of sounds - Pink Floyd's trippy rock motifs, the psychedelic pop of MGMT, and the anthemic call-to-arms vibes found on modern rock radio - to express emotions and perspectives that will undoubtedly be relatable to listeners far and wide. The nocturnal groove and estimable swagger of the single "Saturday Night" might seem like a classic party jam on first approach, but listen a little closer and you'll hear a sense of generational despair connected to the more-more-more trajectory of society.
"I love how danceable and upbeat it sounds - I love to get people to pay attention to something because it feels so easy to listen to, before slipping in lyrics that are dark," Asraf states about the song. "It's an ode to American drug culture, but also a warning. We live in a world where the point of working is to get through your day so you can party. It's dangerous, but it's also a lifestyle that's encouraged. It's like the 1980s right now - we're in such a heightened state of pushing and consuming. I wanted to hold a mirror to what I see."
Then there's "All Alone," which combines a hard-charging chorus with Asraf's swinging, passionate vocals on an all-in-it chorus that addresses the perpetually relevant issue of mental health. "Everyone feels alone, and the mental health issues we deal with are serious ones," he explains. "We all feel like we're not supposed to talk about it, but we're not equipped to handle them. You see people who think that if they achieve certain things, the issues are going to go away, but that isn't true. Those things don't fix whatever's broken inside you."
"I'm much more concerned with how a song makes someone feel than I am about expressing our technical prowess," Asraf states when talking about his and Brick + Mortar's artistic mission - and that's more than evident while listening to Meta Meta Etc., an album representing thoughtful passion that'll move your body as much as it'll change your perspective. Music has always healed and helped, and Brick + Mortar want you to join them in their own personal journey of personal betterment. Are you going to join them, or what?