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Broken Records - Until the Earth Begins to Part

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Artist: Broken Records

Album: Until the Earth Begins to Part

Label: 4AD

Review date: Jul. 6, 2009

True, “subtlety” is not the first word one thinks of in regard to the Arcade Fire. And yet Edinburgh’s Broken Records, whom the murmurs have begun to tout as Scotland’s answer to the Arcade Fire, make it plain that it takes more than accordion and strings and elaborately wrought Weltschmerz to sell a lack of subtlety. Until the Earth Begins to Part is the best foot forward from a band whose every motion swells with great passion, but who are so preoccupied with the adornments of great passion that they often leave the substance to be inferred.

Maybe “substance” is the wrong word. Until the Earth… is a crowded, engaged album, concerned with what singer Jamie Sutherland calls “all the shit things men do” and intent on conveying that concern with seven players’ worth of instruments. There’s nothing damning about that per se – consider the Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, two much better albums that are just as evangelically cheesy. What’s missing here isn’t content, just some of the details that allow albums like those to draw you in even as they beat you over the head with sentiment.

Like momentum, which Until the Earth… exhausts faster than it can build. Most of its songs surge and recede too regularly and too fitfully to have much dynamic staying power; the album’s prettiest passage, a sudden outburst of layered insistence toward the end of the slow-building “Wolves,” comes out of nowhere and back in short order. Lead single “If the News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It” has a wonderfully tense melodic body, but the bottom keeps dropping out because each moment seems under strict orders to be more urgent than the last.

The vocals are another issue: the considerable depth afforded by the album’s instrumental arrangements is usually offset by Sutherland’s voice, the kind of anguished yowl that hasn’t successfully conveyed emotional depth since the early 1990s. He uses it to superb effect in “Thoughts on a Picture (In A Paper, January 2009),” but the same tricks make a flop of the noncommittal gypsy-fetish “If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song It Would Sound Like This” (that being the tormented ex of the heroine in Hedda Gabler, for those keeping score at home). The band ebbs and flows excessively, but the vocals hemorrhage earnestness with every sentence, which belabors the point a lot quicker.

You can bet Broken Records’ ambitiousness is their best quality, not their worst; plenty of bands have better poise and still fail to be as interesting. They’re trying too hard for all the right reasons, and every so often the byproduct is great – but they’ve yet to find that thing, that detail, that lets them go for the gut at every single moment without your eventually wishing they’d just give it a rest.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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