by: katy mombourquette
Today, the deeply relevant EP Finishing School was released by Brontë Fall. The literature-infused pen name is the songwriting project of classically trained musician Teri Bracken, who is ever inspired by the Brontë sisters and their courageous defiance of social norms at a time when women’s voices often went unheard. After coming across Emily Brontë’s poem “Fall Leaves Fall”, Bracken fell in love with the idea of finding beauty in the darker seasons of life. In her own life and music, Bracken embodies the spirit of this poem and the Brontë sisters with an openness and eloquence that firmly impresses her messages in her listeners’ minds. Most of all, Bracken wants to use her art to empower those around her and to connect with those who can identify with her experiences. She says:
As a musician, I almost feel like I’m defending who I am and what I want. Perhaps I feel pressure to be a certain way. These songs were written about feeling proud of where I am and what I’m doing. It’s about feeling empowered wherever you are in life, and celebrating the past while building your own kind of future.
Bracken attacks her issues from different places, opting for a tougher sound in “Warrior”, “Bad Ideas”, and “White Dress”, but also showing her softer side in “Six Years”, “Freeway High”, and “Give You A Halo.” No matter her musical approach, however, her words show her courage and boldness to say what she has to say. Finishing School is packed with empowering anthems, sometimes punchy, sometimes subtle, but all with catchy choruses that use repeated words and melodic lines to drive her points home. Each track deals with a female experience, entertaining and inspiring her listeners along the way.
“Six Years” is a celebration of aging contrary to the praise put on the youthfulness of women in today’s world. Bracken’s voice isn’t loud or confrontational as she sings, but rather it assumes a calmness that comes from a place of complete honesty. Yet at the same time, her voice could fill an entire room, ringing out full and glorious. The track slowly builds, with drums and the bulk of the music only coming in in the second verse, giving it its anthemic quality as Bracken sings “I’m six older, six years smarter, six years stronger with a will that’s unbreakable.” “Freeway High” is all about liberation and letting go. On the surface, this liberation is symbolized in the freedom of an open road but, on a deeper level, it calls to mind the freedom that the Brontë sisters and Bracken herself were (and still are) fighting for. The track has a bit of a country sound, drawing the line between Bracken’s pop and rock influences. Her soaring vocals rise straight to heaven where they’re greeted by angelic harmonies, while a solo violin part adopts its own sense of liberty as it freely moves through notes. In a heartbreakingly tender but equally powerful ballad, “Give You A Halo”, Bracken sings of someone she’s afraid of losing, written for her Grandma. It begins with a ¾ time piano part that reminds one of a black and white scene of a Parisian street in a melancholic french film, setting the sentimental mood for the track. Strings slowly join in, exploring soul-stirring deep ranges that fortify her words. As Bracken sings “Oh late at night I try to call on you without tears in my eyes… but I’m not ready to give you a halo,” with such an earnest conviction, you can’t help but to feel your own heartbreak.
While all of these tracks are similarly calm with a subtle sense of empowerment to them, Bracken is far from one-dimensional, and the remaining three tracks on Finishing School show it. “Warrior” is tough with its electric guitar and blues-rock singing style. Dealing with the fight against misogyny in business and the music industry, this track is a swaggering anthem that uses a piece of wisdom from Donatella Versace (“A dress is a weapon”) to depict femininity as an arsenal. From her voice to her words, Bracken is unapologetic and badass, singing “go ahead and call me a tease, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve.” “Bad Ideas” has a darker sound to it, with low-range underlying harmonies and short string strokes that add a sense of drama. The song points out how complicated life can be, wanting to “unbreak” someone’s heart even though it’s a bad idea. To close off the EP, “White Dress” returns to the spunky energy of “Warrior” but in an old-fashioned way– using an organ and a bluesy sound that feels somewhat ironic set against her modern feminist words. About the constant pressure to get married, Bracken defies expectations and sings “it may not look like the rest, this is my white dress,” showing that she can find fulfillment outside of marriage.
This closing track brings us right back to the core of the album: honesty. Bracken is channelling the Brontë sisters and their feminism to provide an EP that not only speaks her truth about the expectations that persist for women even today but also gives validation to anyone out there who wants to break free of those expectations. Finishing School may cross into different genres and explore varied musical elements, but each song is unified by Bracken’s expressive voice, and most importantly, her beautiful and pertinent words.