Broken Water’s second full-length, Tempest, is at once a deeply competent and unoriginal record. These adjectives, of course, need not indicate that a listener will not derive pleasure from listening to Tempest. The album has moments that inspire — even demand — some head-nodding or hair-tossing; a druggy, decaying guitar effect builds intoxicatingly over the record’s course.
One would be hard-pressed to find a review of Broken Water that does not mention Sonic Youth or their PNW predecessors Unwound, and with good reason. Broken Water culls so extensively from those bands’ sonic vocabularies as to seem, occasionally, redundant: the washes of noise behind a pretty, melancholic melody, the pedal-board, the tom-heavy rhythms, the slow tempos with loud-soft dynamics. The latter might be one of Tempest’s main pitfalls. Almost the entire latter half of the record stays firmly in midtempo mode, and though several of the songs might succeed pulled out of that context, the sequence of “Some Thread to Connect,” “Paranoid,” and “River Under the River” just kind of grinds along.
Broken Water’s Peripheral Star EP, which came out last year, remedied some of these tendencies by virtue of its catchiness. Touches like the “woo-ooo” backing vocals on “Heartstrings” and the thunderous speed and energy with which the band tore through “Stop Means Stop” seemed like a step forward from a fine first LP Whet, which showed a tendency to meander. Here, they’ve grown louder and denser, but somehow, it only serves to remind a listener that she probably hasn’t listened to Evol in a while and wow, that really is a great record.
As a fan of post-punk grunge-side-stepping music of bygone decades, I like Tempest because it’s a fine rendition of a style of music I enjoy, which few guitar rock bands play nowadays; even the firmly established ’90s boom seems to lean more heavily toward the more raging sounds of Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney (cf. Milk Music, who profess to hate Mudhoney, Yuck, California X, et al). The three members of Broken Water are such skilled musicians and seem so committed to this particular sound that I hope they continue to tweak it in ways that transcend the nostalgic, as they did on Peripheral Star. “Chantal,” here, seems a step in that direction, though completely different from the EP. It’s a lovely slow ballad that with country-tinged guitar swirls that land somewhere between My Bloody Valentine and Opal. Where singer Kanako Pooknyw’s soft vocals sometimes tend toward the monotonous, here she carries a buried melody that plays successfully off the rest of the band. Broken Water is fully capable of growth, and I hope they will build off deft asides like these to create a style they can own fully.