Brakence makes glitchy emo-pop that’s as confessional as it is inventive

Over the past few years, Randy Finell—the enigmatic 21-year-old Ohioan releasing music as Brakence—has avoided interviews and other press appearances while racking up tens of millions of streams. He lets his openly confessional music speak for itself. On “Fifthenigma,” a Soundcloud upload from 2016, he mixes samples and jittery beats under his warbling vocals, crafting a moody tapestry that recalls the early work of electronic producer Baths in its playfulness and sincerity.

Brakence’s formula has remained the same ever since, though his productions have become increasingly complex. His self-released breakthrough album, Punk2, ended up shoehorned into the “hyperpop” box when it came out in 2020, but putting him in a category with anyone else does a disservice to the distinctiveness of his pop. Brakence wraps up midwest emo and emo rap into a sharp, glitchy package; his genre blending is always precise and thoughtful, and he’s adept at creating fractured landscapes that capture Gen Z malaise. On “Dropout,” an account of his decision to leave Ohio State University in 2019, lurching hip-hop percussion and on-the-brink-of-tears vocals infuse the song with equal parts confidence and anxiety—despite his uncertain future, he sounds victorious singing “Now I’ve got more freedom than I’ve ever seen.” When he raps about relationship issues and flirting on Instagram, moments of catharsis arrive jaggedly, with record scratches (“Fuckboy”) and slipshod pop-punk excursions (“FWB”) telegraphing ambivalence.

Brakence’s latest singles, which precede his second album, Hypochondriac (out in December on Columbia), coat his clever songwriting in a glossier sheen. “Argyle” makes twinkly guitar melodies and IDM-style production feel one and the same, while “Venus Fly Trap” ends with an elegant intertwining of piano, vocal melodies, whispering, and agile beats. His sampling is more effective than ever too: loner anthem “CBD” lets the sound of a buzzing fly soundtrack its chorus, and “Caffeine” folds shouts from a famous Super Smash Bros. Melee match into its frenetic production. Brakence may have only a couple albums under his belt, but his music already feels emblematic of his generation’s sonic ingenuity.

Brakence Jane Remover opens. Sun 11/27, 7:30 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, sold out, all ages

Wednesday, November 30, 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art

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