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Looking back over DiS's almost-positive DiS review of Broken Records’ first album, Until The Earth Begins To Part, it seems that the problem with it was that it was stuffed with unused potential. Now, as the band release their second album, this is clearly a problem they haven’t quite overcome. On one hand, they are writing heartfelt rock songs with a folk edge that Springsteen would happily groan over. But for all the complexity in the actual arrangement of those songs, Broken Records seems sadly satisfied in restricting their experimentation to the ambience and atmosphere of their music around the edges.
For example, there are sweetly sinister jangling chords to introduce ‘The Motorcycle Boy Reigns’. It could go either way in terms of mood, and the interesting part about the pattern they’ve chosen is that uncertainty. But when it’s time for the bass to come in, it is heaped on like treacle, with a clumsy groove that pushes the track too far in one direction. When the chorus kicks in, it isn’t as agonised as you’d hope, and starts to feel quite plain. This does lead well into a pretty, elegant outro which would have been awkward to reach from a more intense preceding section. But on the whole, it all feels as though Broken Records weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do with the song so stuck firmly in the middle of the road.
They set out a more resolute manifesto on opening track ‘A Leaving Song’. The Scottish drone of the guitar, the clattering drums, all lead into a soaring chorus that is drenched in torrential cymbals. It combines to form a folky, hyper-sensitive brand of indie-rock, draped in tartan and typical of what you’d hope Broken Records could define themselves as. The vocals are sensitive, but there’s a high enough quality of songwriting to steer the band away from crummy, tokenistic whining.
The same can’t be said of ‘The Cracks In The Wall’, with a preachy attitude and a particularly soggy coda that tries to sound wise and heartbroken, but ends up sounding immature and dull. Similarly, ‘Ailene’ is ruined by a hackneyed folk chorus that could easily soundtrack a Scottish tourist board advert and fails to match the sincere frustration of the rest of the song. When sincerity is lacking, Broken Records falter.
But where it is present, they succeed. So the final feel-good chorus of ‘A Darkness Rises Up’, for example, swells with genuine hope and optimism. And the stark, cold piano on ‘I Used To Dream’ is effective for the exact opposite reasons. Here, the bass and the strings start to work in tandem, rising to a crescendo as the rhythm intensifies and the suspense builds up, before it all collapses back to that lonely piano, like the sound of giving up.
But for these successes, Broken Records only really sound comfortable on ‘You Know You’re Not Dead’. It has an accessible, Springsteen-like pace, but with a much more abstract approach to arrangement than The Boss. It feels, finally, like Broken Records have worked out, with those reverb-soaked guitars, how they want to make their music sound, while admitting that really, they just want to write honest, earnest rock songs. It is, all at once, accessible as a song, but interesting as a piece of music. But the problem with Let Me Come Home overall is that, as before, there is a bit too much of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter.
- Drowned in Scotland: July-August 2011
- Drowned in Scotland - January 2011
- In Photos: Drowned in Sound presents Broken Records @ The Harley, Sheffield
- Broken Records - Let Me Come Home
- Watch: Broken Records - 'A Darkness Rises Up'
- This Week's Singles: 18/10/10
- Drowned In Edinburgh #1
- 4AD give away free 12-track sampler, lovely stuff