Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: Broken Records - Until the Earth Begins to Part (* * * 1/2)

Maybe it's just me (it usually is) but the influx of Scottish bands has picked up a bit as of late. Last year we had Glasvegas and Frightened Rabbits (most notably), while 2009 has brought us newcomers We Were Promised Jetpacks, Bricolage, and a couple others I can't be bothered to remember right now. Each of these bands have built up a sizable amount of hype with their respective releases (mostly debuts) and most of the music has been quite good. Whatever the reason for the recent Scottish invasion, it's more than welcome as far as I'm concerned. Like many of their countrymen, Broken Records have already created some serious buzz in the UK with their debut, Until the Earth Begins to Part, which has been lauded for it's beautiful orchestral arrangements and exquisite execution.

What primarily separates Broken Records from their peers is their sheer size, both literally and musically. The Edinburgh band is comprised of seven members playing everything from guitars to glockenspiels led by big-voiced singer Jamie Sutherland, who's grandiose style makes each tune into an almost operatic epic. Combining the big guitar sound of Glasvegas with the indie musicality and instrumentation of bands like the Arcade Fire, Broken Records create some truly stunning moments on their debut, though the ten tracks definitely reveal a new band with plenty of promise that still needs to tweak and refine their sound in order to create something worthy of their ability.

Opener "Nearly Home" sets the appropriate stage for the rest of the album, beginning slowly and quietly, with muted strings and horns slowly swirling as Sutherland begins to wail triumphantly, his voice occasionally breaking into a soft falsetto for dramatic effect as the band continues to add layers of instrumentation until it finally tapers off for the next track. "If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It" is one of a couple fiery rock numbers, an excellent showcase of the band's skills as the menacing strings and melancholy horns add an intense dose emotion to the song's already high-strung structure. From this excellent start, the band keeps things interesting and occasionally surprising, hitting a few highs as well as a couple lows, though the album actually feels quite consistent.

By the time you reach the end of the album's forty one minutes, you're likely to be worn out by Sutherland singing like it's the end of the world while his band supports him with equal grandiosity, but the band has enough charm and talent that there's more to appreciate here than just the immensity of the proceedings. The basic template of big, brash choruses and full, lush arrangements is followed throughout, and though tunes like the album's title track feel too heavy-handed and sappy to be taken seriously, the traditional Scottish flavor on songs like "If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song It Would Sound Like This" and "A Good Reason" provide plenty reasons (no pun intended) to enjoy the band's signature dramatic flair. The group's youthful energy works to their advantage more often than not, and what could perhaps be considered some pretension on their part most often just comes across as necessary confidence.

Ultimately, Until the Earth Begins to Part is certainly a notable release if only to introduce a band that should continue to improve and expand as they mature, which is an exciting concept for a group like Broken Records. That's not to say the record isn't enjoyable in and of itself, but I'm hoping the future holds even better things for these talented newcomers. Make sure to download a track from the record below:

If the News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It (MP3)