Last year was a wild one for local cult fave Johnny Azer. After lengthy planning, he abandoned his native Rutland for the more artistically inspiring Queen City. Along the way, he managed to catch the eye of talent scouts from ABC and landed a spot performing on the late-night "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show. However, the resulting 15 minutes of fame -- actually, more like five -- seems to have done little to disperse the dark cloud of despair that hovers over Azer's head. On Brand New & Lost Tracks, his recently released six-song EP, the Dark Knight turns in some of his sourest musings to date.
The set includes two new compositions, "Just Don't Know" and "Girls I Could Never Have," as well as four previously unreleased cuts. While the material from Azer's vaults is often interesting -- Duane Carleton lays down some particularly incendiary guitar work on the punky "More Than Ever" -- the fresh tracks are the real treat. On "Just Don't Know," former Azer guitarist Adam Wright -- reprising his role as The Edge to Azer's Bono -- delivers a stadium-worthy set of riffs and a roof-rattling solo. Lyrically, Azer croons his way through couplets dealing with insecurity and ennui. The self-loathing reaches a fever pitch on "Girls I Could Never Have," where Azer sings of having a heart "painted black," and how he's grinding through what are certain to be his last years. "I'm suicidal and there's no turning back," he wails over a wash of synths and throbbing bass.
Yet as dark as it gets, the man has an excellent ability to craft melodies that stick in your skull long after the depression has passed. Let's hope Azer is able to once again regain the mental high ground. He's too much of a treasure to leave us now.