Two summers ago, Nick Jaina was busy writing—this time writing music (rather than an Oregon Book Award finalist memoir) that was intended to soundtrack a contemporary dance piece. Yet when he submitted his work to the choreographer, all of it was rejected, and when the feedback came, it was that the pieces were “too sad.” Not ready to completely give up on his creations, Jaina refashioned the bits into songs by adding vocals and choruses, which in turn gave them a new existence.
And on September 16, the resulting 14 tracks will see the light of day as Brutal Lives, Jaina’s eighth (or maybe ninth or tenth?) full-length album, his second with local label Fluff & Gravy Records, and his first in three years. While many of the songs came from different places, almost every instrument was played and recorded by Jaina himself, which provides a cohesive through line amongst the truncated compositions, most of which hover between the two and three minute mark.
Despite their stunted length, Jaina has always been a gifted storyteller and songwriter, and his broken-hearted chops once again shine on Brutal Lives. With fireworks whistling and crackling behind Jaina’s picked guitar strings alongside a padding drumbeat that recalls muted knee slaps, “Belle Isle” is a track that waxes and wanes in intensity like the explosive energy of a Fourth of July display—all upward propulsion followed by a flash, bang and, ultimately, a fading back to obscurity.
"Belle Isle is a beautiful park in Detroit,” Jaina explains. “I sat there on a fading summer day with Hitomi as she laid her head in my lap. The next morning she was to fly to South America for three months. She told me of how much the park had changed, that they had really cleaned it up, that there used to be more scraggily wilderness. She used to hang out there with her twin sister. She showed me pictures of her and her sister, and in each one Hitomi was leaning towards her sister, and her sister was stoic and straight. Hitomi always had a wry smile and her sister always had a neutral expression. Her sister fell into drugs and addiction and killed herself seven years before. Now I was here with Hitomi, talking about her sister, how they used to share birthdays, and wanting summer to last a little longer.”
So who is Hitomi?
"I've been trying to answer that question myself,” Jaina responds cryptically.