Word of mouth has always been a powerful weapon, and no more so than in these globalised times. Blogs and social networking have broken many an act over the last couple of years, and Scotland’s Broken Records look set to be the next.
Formed in 2007, the six-piece first created something of a buzz in their native Edinburgh following some well-received live gigs. This was then followed by a single on the ultra-cool Young Turks label before 4AD added them to their already legendary roster.
It’s easy to see just why Broken Records have become so talked about. They mix in the best parts of Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, adding in a healthy dollop of Balkan folk and imbuing their big and anthemic sound with an indefinable quality that never fails to make an emotional connection with the listener.
The album starts with a blast of the band tuning up, before the plaintive strings of Nearly Home kick in. Lead singer James Sutherland has one of those classic rock voices, able to switch from broken and despairing one minute to impassioned and defiant the next, and he builds beautifully with the song right up to its dramatic climax.
It segues quite beautifully into If The News Makes You Sad Don’t Watch It, a single released in 2008 which really brought the band to wider attention. It’s a powerful, surging anthem, just ripe for a reissue (especially with timely lyrics such as “the politicians, they don’t speak for me”) and still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did on its original release.
There’s an intelligence here as well, which never threatens to topple into chin-stroking pretentiousness, despite what titles such as Thoughts On A Picture In A Paper, January 2009 may suggest. After all, there aren’t many bands who can name a song after a character in an Ibsen play (If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song It Would Sound Like This) and turn it into a joyful hoedown which sounds like Zach Condon’s Beirut after a crateful of Sunny Delight.
Although they’re at their best on those chaotic jigs where the band’s many instruments gel brilliantly, such as the blissfully freewheeling A Good Reason, they’re also experts at the quieter moments – check out the epic title track, or the first half of A Promise, the sheer fragility of which conjures up names such as fellow Scots The Blue Nile.
It ends as perfectly as it began, with the stirring Slow Parade, which ends with Sutherland gently intoning “she stays with me, till the music stops” – at which point, the music does indeed stop for a moment, before swelling up again for a valedictory instrumental coda for the last 90 seconds. It would be heartbreaking if it didn’t sound so inspiring.
It’s rare for a debut album to sound this accomplished and confident, especially when the band have only been together for two years. Shout it from the rooftops though – with this record, Broken Records could well have a contender for album of the year on their hands.