Cereus Bright is a gorgeous white flower that survives in the desert, one of the most difficult environments on earth the grow in, and blooms only in the darkness of night. This folk rock band from Knoxville,TN wears that name as a badge of honor, seeking to draw out the beauty that can still be found in darkness and difficulty through their lyrics and melodies. A tall order for any band to stake claim to sure, but what is impressive about their music is at times during their second EP, Happier Than Me, they succeed at that task.
Formed in early 2012, Cereus Bright is made up of Tyler Anthony (vocals/guitar) and Even Ford (lead guitar/mandolin/ harmonies) with a rhythm section comprised of Matt Nelson (bass) and Luke Bowers (drums). Their first EP, Goldmine, was released in late 2012 and they have recently followed that up with Happier, a five song EP that moves quickly back and forth between the footstopping and the heartbreaking in attempts to show their versatility in songwriting as a band. On “Board Up”, the first track off Happier, we are introduced to how the delicate the band can be. The melody is beautiful and simple. A violin and soft percussion balance out a love story about being isolated with only the one you love. “Chattanooga,” the next track, comes crashing in as janglin tune, the kind where you always see yourself driving down the coast or out west on the open road. Its fast and fun in contrast to the delicacy of the opening track but there is also a depth to the song as Tyler shouts “I won’t let you take me down/ take me down too!”
“Happier Than Me”, the title track, is by far the most interesting and complex song on the EP. Diving into the complex emotions regarding a failed relationship, Tyler repeats, “I can’t let you be happier than me/ I can’t let you know how far I have let myself go.” The songwriter is attempting to come grasp with the happiness of his former love, his own depravity, and his knowledge of how disappointed that former lover would be with him in his current. “Some Strange Hold,” which has a very simple acoustic sound, builds its merits on its lyrics as well. Addressing the difficulties of unrequited love, “I have chains honey, you have keys,” Cereus Bright builds a connection with the listener through the storytelling. The melodies are beautifully simple but its each individual story makes these songs interesting. “Stella,” the final song of the EP, turns the tables a bit with a straightforward and fun footstomper. The subject matter is a simple kind of love, no chains, no sadness, just that lovely idealism. Its also my favorite song off the EP but I’m a sucker for a song I can dance to.
With the saturation of the modern folk market today its easy to compare Cereus Bright with any number of young folk rock bands currently building large followings (Head and the Heart might be the easiest) but I think there is an honesty in the songwriting that makes them appealing. Cereus Bright attempt to make a connection with their listener through the stories they are telling, relying just on simple melodic music to accompany it. The sound is very familiar (especially for readers of this site) but there is a definite beauty in the storytelling. I’m not sure if they have done enough yet to truly distance themselves from the acoustic pop and folk pop dominating the music scene out there, but that is often a thin line and a bigger discussion than this review is ready for. There is plenty of room for growth but even through the familiarity of the music and the saturation of the folk rock music scene it appears that Cereus Bright attempts to put their own signature on each song they write through a heavy reliance on lyrics and that is commendable. I look forward to seeing what this band has in store for us in the next few years.