Edinburgh’s Broken Records don’t really do subtle. The seven-piece outfit doesn’t so much play rock songs as gigantic, sweeping arena pop symphonies that build to mighty crescendos and come dripping in earnestness. They give their songs titles such as “If The News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It,” and do so without even the vaguest ironic nod. No, Broken Records aren’t the slightest bit interested in playing it cool or reining in the emotion, and that’s a better thing than you might think.
On Until the Earth Begins to Part, the Scottish septet runs a broad gamut throughout its ten tracks, from slow-paced, tear jerking balladry to upbeat, yet nonetheless heart-on-sleeve rockers. And no matter the volume level, each song comes packed with as much emotional intensity as the group can possibly pack in to a five-minute package. This may seem a bit overwhelming, but what makes it work is the band’s commitment to making as beautiful an album as they possibly can. And taken in the wake of a Woodsist/Vivian Girls/Crystal Stilts codeine haze, Broken Records’ surging anthems are downright refreshing.
The album opens with the fluttering strings of “Nearly Home,” a song that slowly emerges from its initial silence into an Arcade Fire-like march of military drums and staccato horns. Early in the song, frontman Jamie Sutherland moans “I had a good idea/ let’s lay these bones to rest,” a refrain that returns as the song comes to a close. Those bones are merely getting warmed up, however, as the band transitions into the explosive “If The News Makes You Sad, Don’t Watch It.” Cringe-worthy title aside, it’s a soaring and sonically amazing song, taking more than a few cues from hometown heroes the Waterboys. Sutherland makes a plea for devotion in the title track, crying “say you will, forever, oh my heart/ until the earth begins to part,” coming off as sincere but no less charismatic, qualities that Chris Martin has painfully struggled to balance of late.
“Thoughts On A Picture (In a Paper, January 2009)” gorgeously pairs ukulele with throbbing cello, making way for waltzing horns and piano, making for a warm and romantic track with a huge sound, but a simple melody. The group then turns to Henrik Ibsen for inspiration on “If Eilert Loevborg Wrote a Song It Would Sound Like This,” a gypsy rocker in the vein of DeVotchKa. Having not read Hedda Gabler, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the song’s title, and will instead take their word for it as I enjoy its folk-dance shuffle. And “Wolves” offers one of the album’s most heartbreaking moments, opening with Sutherland’s resigned declaration, “Well I heard today that the bombs dropped/ and I guess if it’s true, then we all are through.” What makes it so potent, however, is the fact that it’s one of the quieter moments on the album, the somber arrangement and hushed tones managing not to overcrowd the display of emotion. When that big crescendo hits, however, it serves to break the tension, transforming the track from a wake to a celebration.
Admittedly, a few lighter moments would serve Broken Records well, as Until the Earth Begins to Part is as serious as albums come. That said, it’s also a damn good debut. The group’s arrangements are stunning, and their passion is enviable. Sutherland’s lyrics will tug on the heartstrings on numerous occasions, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that when delivered with his smoky wail, each word is delivered with maximum potency. Broken Records are on to something special, and have made a lovely first effort deserving of repeat spins. All they need now is a good laugh and they’ll be on their way.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.