Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Soulsavers - Broken (* * * *)

For their third album, the UK production duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, also known as Soulsavers, once again collaborate with Mark Lanegan (of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age fame) for a dark, brooding album that takes the band's rock 'n' roll leaning even further. The guitars are more prominent, the songs fuller and richer, and Lanegan is in fine form here with his haunting baritone (something like a cross between Mark Knopfler and Nick Cave) taking the lead on most cuts, though Australian newcomer Red Ghost lends her vocals to a few tracks as do Mike Patton and Jason Pierce, among others. Soulsavers have continued to keep a fairly low profile, but they've also earned a decent amount of critical acclaim over the past few years, and Broken's gritty Americana sound seems to have earned the band more recognition this time around than ever before. It's not difficult for me to hear why; the sprawling (over an hour long) set of 13 tracks is an enthralling listen that has quickly become one of my favorite rock records this year.

Perhaps the most spotlighted tune on Broken is the epic, piano-led ballad "You'll Miss Me When I Burn," sung by Lanegan but written but alt-country mainstay Will Oldham. It definitely deserves recognition as one of the record's strongest songs, with its gently rolling piano and string combination giving the album a few minutes of unexpected poignancy, but there's plenty more to enjoy here aside from Oldham's notable contribution. After a brief instrumental opener, the album begins with two of its more aggressive numbers, the raw, smoldering "Death Bells" and the scuzzy "Unbalanced Pieces," both delightfully dark rock songs that start things off on a decidedly high note with the aforementioned ballad and the eight-minute, grandiose "Some Misunderstanding. For a duo often described as production or electronic artists, Machin and Glover give Broken a very organic quality, combining live percussion, strings, guitars, and synthetic instrumentation seamlessly and to great effect, with special attention payed to each detail. As a result, the heavier moments truly hit hard for a lasting impression while the album's many relatively delicate tracks are appropriately majestic and often quite gorgeous.

After a fantastic first half, the record flags a bit during the second, not in quality but mostly in its decidedly slower pace. A couple songs, such as "Praying Ground" have much less to offer than the album's best, and though there are no real 'weak spots' here, Broken may have been even more spectacular with a bit more editing. Still, when you consider the amount of truly impressive music on the record, it's easy to forgive its imperfections and simply enjoy the immense, absorbing monolith of rock 'n' roll that Soulsavers have constructed. It's soulful, ambitious, and exquisitely crafted - creating as genuinely satisfying a rock 'n' roll experience as I've had in some time.

Soulsavers on MySpace