Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Broken Records: Let Me Come Home

Broken Records
Let Me Come Home
Rating: 2.0/50
Label: 4AD

So what does over-the-top emotional pleading mixed with deadly serious earnestness sound like? A lot like Let Me Come Home, the latest album from Scottish band Broken Records. In much the same way as their debut effort Until the Earth Begins to Part, super-heavy feelings of dread and despair are laid on pretty thick in both Jamie Sutherland's vocals and the group's arena-ready instrumentals, but rarely are they remotely believable. That might sound a bit callous, as the group spends Home pouring its guts out and doing its damnedest to make its songs sound grave and important, but the record is too overblown and dramatic for its own good. If subtlety in music is your thing, best to stay away from this one.

A listener can often tell a lot about an album by its song titles; in Home's case, track names like "A Darkness Rises Up," "I Used To Dream" and "You Know You're Not Dead" make the record's intentions painfully obvious. It's dark out there in the cruel, cruel world, man, and Broken Records wants you to know it, song after song. Thus the lyrics speak of tired bodies, heavy hearts, hometown ghosts and the ubiquitous one true love. And that's just the first song. Elsewhere there are concerns about insomnia, unemployment, death, mental decline, various methods of burial and virtually all other topics reminiscent of a twentysomething intoxicated on existentialism. As a vocalist Sutherland is too often prone to bouts of grandiose theatricality; he sometimes sings in a falsetto on both "The Motorcycle Boy Reigns" and "You Know You're Not Dead" and bellows almost the rest of the time, particularly on "A Leaving Song" and "Modern Worksong." One is almost tempted to dismiss these exaggerated vocals as intentionally overdramatic, but clearly that wasn't the aim here. The arrangements aren't unique or varied enough to either fit with or compensate for Sutherland's vocal approach; instead, the band repeatedly opts for a mighty big indie rock sound and even bigger finishes that soon become predictable and tedious.

Now, the nice section. Good things happen when both Sutherland and the band reign in their excesses and show even the slightest bit of restraint. The bleakness of "Dia dos Namorados!" is plausible, as Sutherland asks to be buried in "the shallow soil/ The filth and grime." His vocals are measured and understated, while the song's arrangement is practically skeletal compared to most of Home. "I Used To Dream" ends not with a bang but with a whimper, and for the better; the song is wonderfully sparse and well-written, its keyboards and light touches of strings complementing Sutherland's almost-hushed vocals. But such moments are rare, and ultimately the album suffocates under the weight of its lyrical melodrama and musical indulgences.

On the strength of these two tracks as well as album closer "Home," it's possible that Broken Records might be capable of crafting a more nuanced, heartfelt record before long. The emotions in Home's songs just might be the real deal, but they're couched in so many layers of verbal and auditory bombast that the album too frequently comes across like an emotional basketcase crying fake tears while the world checks it out, yawns and then goes about its business.

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