- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Broken Records
Until the Earth Begins to Part
4AD Records

It’s unlikely that a wave of guitar fatigue will crash on the indie rock world any time soon, but the Scottish septet Broken Records is making noise on the other side of the Atlantic with a sound that de-emphasizes the guitar without turning down the volume.

Typically, so-called chamber-pop bands accent guitar rock with strings and horns or else make music that is marketed as rock but more accurately tagged as easy listening. Not Broken Records. Its full-length debut, “Until the Earth Begins to Part,” makes for anything but easy listening with its mix of angsty minor-key melodies and stirring anthems.

The name Broken Records originally was intended for an Edinburgh-based record label, but vocalist and frontman Jamie Sutherland turned his attention away from being an impresario for Scottish indie bands to focus on his own group.

The former literature student has a penchant for nerdish, allusive lyrics most notably on “If Eilert Loevborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This.” It positively cooks with klezmer beats and a driving mix of fiddle and accordion, both supplied by Jamie’s brother Rory Sutherland. Lyrically, it’s just what the title promises — the character Loevborg from Henrik Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” pours out his heart to Hedda in song.

The album’s first track, “Nearly Home,” is a study in contrasts, opening with a mix of instruments echoing through a delay pedal until a single sustained note emerges, sounding a bit like U2 turning up to play some Vivaldi. This is replaced with violin arpeggios and Jamie Sutherland’s intense, expressive Scots-accented vocals. On the title track, Mr. Sutherland shows off his talent for falsetto, reaching high for notes that are offset by the sonorous strains of cello and trumpet. There is a collision mix of trumpet and violin in the whimsically hectoring “If The News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It.”

A bit of Coldplay-induced emoting emerges on the leaden piano dirge “Wolves,” but the unmistakable touchstone for Broken Records is Zach Condon’s band, Beirut. Mr. Condon’s partisans are apt to find this effort by Broken Records hopelessly derivative, right down to Mr. Sutherland’s sonorous vocals. It would, indeed, be shocking if there were no Beirut albums to be found among Mr. Sutherland’s music collection, but there is a certain verve here that is not to be found in Mr. Condon’s elegiac romanticism.

Instead, think of Broken Records as being of a piece with other conspicuously large, genre-defiant bands such as Arcade Fire, Lambchop and Gogol Bordello. This isn’t to put Broken Records in that league, but it shares the same focus on an intricately orchestrated ensemble sound and an avoidance of the verse-chorus-verse motif of the three-minute pop song. Broken Records’ mix of ferocity and stillness is deftly executed. And like any promising young band, it doesn’t let its obvious influences get in the way of its outsized ambitions.

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