There are a couple of things that you should know about Chris Brokaw: Number one, he has been at this solo music game for 11 years, and so theoretically, he should have his own style of doing things by now. Number two, he absolutely does not. Think of Gambler's Ecstasy as a kind of pendulum, swinging between angry, resigned thoughts and the ponderings of another slow, contemplative persona. It is difficult to decide which mood is preferable, but both are extremely enjoyable.
The beginning of Gambler's Ecstasy is an explosive introduction to angry Chris Brokaw. Like the name suggests, 'Criminals' is dark and shady, with its shoegaze-style, punk inspired stream of murmurings and constant, eerie drumming. Then, after three minutes and sixteen seconds, we arrive at 'Crooked'. If this record was a train journey, and 'Criminals' was the creepy looking guy at the end of the platform, 'Crooked' is the cold barely escaping your bones as you board the train, and the moonlit countryside rolling past the windows. It sounds unflattering to describe Chris Brokaw's voice as rough, but it is this quality, combined with the scraping, primary school music lesson violins in this track, that gives it a beautiful Dylanesque quality. There are some songs with lyrics that paint a perfect picture, and this is one of them. Lines like "taking the chance, and breaking the glass, and people will talk for years to come," describe a fading love from the point of view of a jaded, world-weary and vivid character..
The remainder of the tracks follow in a similar fashion, leaping onwards to 'Danny Borracho'. Who is Danny Borracho? Google tells me it is the name of a pretty intense cocktail, but in this track he sounds like an unpleasant man, with his description spat out in a mock-punk style. 'Into The Woods' is another return to Brokaw's atmospheric style, with tension-building guitars and single syllable, juddering lyrics. 'Exemption' is unique in that it straddles the split between the rocky and the heartfelt, and this indecisiveness makes it feel slightly lacklustre.
'California' is a definite highlight of the album, being everything that you wouldn't expect from a song titled 'California'. No palm trees, sunny beaches or Hollywood glamour here, just an intense combination of shaky guitar strumming and folky vocals. The record comes to a dramatic conclusion in the form of 'Richard and Vanessa in the Box', a track that begins with a feeling that is reminiscent of The Breakfast Club and other cheerful 80s movies, but quickly becomes a gargantuan swarm of musical darkness, partially hidden behind a veil of fuzzy lo-fi quality that does little to dilute the deep nature of this song.
The continuous see-saw between the two moods of the album partially serves to ensure that neither get dull, but also makes this album feel honest and insightful. It's easy to hear the moods and inspiration of this record in every single stretched out syllable of the lyrics, the creaks in the raw-sounding vocals and in the intentionally messy production and sad storytelling. At its worst, its swinging structure can be interpreted as a haphazard insight into the confused mind of a lover, and at its best, Gambler's Ecstasy can be described is a heartfelt album that is practically oozing emotion and personality.