The gradual evolution of The Broken Family Band from local heroes in Cambridge into a small cult of an indie band transcending their original fanbase was a satisfying modest success story. Much as they are now missed, there is a sense that they called it quits at exactly the right time. Their music had enjoyed a journey from country pastiches to more personal songs delivered in an indie-rock style and they ended having never made a bad record. Singing Adams is the new band fronted by former BFB singer Steven Adams (not to be confused with The Singing Adams, his endearingly low-key solo effort from 2006). It sees him selecting bandmembers from a number of other lesser-known cult indie bands. There’s Melinda Bronstein from Absentee (a band who appeared to have a near-monopoly on support slots with BFB), Michael Wood from Michaelmas and Matt Ashton from The Leaf Library. They have combined to form a tight, confident unit.
There are of course similarities with Adams’ former band. His writing still effortlessly juxtaposes acerbic wit with tender reflection. The music is still rooted in rambunctious shuffle or delicate indie jangle. Perhaps there is a bit more of the latter on Everybody Friends Now, although it deftly avoids accusations of feyness or tweeness. Adams’ songwriting is simply too sophisticated and honest for that. Given that this is supposedly the point at which Adams assumes more responsibility as a bandleader, the whole album feels wonderfully relaxed, effortless and uncontrived.
The opener Move On feels carefully placed. Whilst its title might suggest a break with the past, the music finds common ground between this project and BFB. The music has a delightful energy and a bristling shuffle, but the emphatic chorus, handclaps and horn section seem the work of a band with possibly loftier ambitions. Adams’ perspective remains wonderfully wry. On The Old Days, he’s reflecting post-decline on the glory days when ‘I used to be someone, I had a band, we had it all planned…’ It’s a characteristic moment of gleeful irony.
At the centre of Everybody Friends Now are two of the most surprising and effective songs Adams has yet written. Give It All Away builds from a deceptively minimal opening (in which Adams cheekily references Black Lips) to a rather moving lament again bolstered by horns. Red Carpet is a brilliantly melodic song backed by delicate clatter, somewhat reminiscent of the outstanding recent solo work from Kathryn Calder of New Pornographers and Immaculate Machine.
This all feels like the work of a more mature songwriter. The occasional aggression that seeped through in BFB from time to time seems to have been kept on a tight leash. Even Sit and Wait, which basically amounts to a political protest song of sorts, seems somewhat benign. Recent single Bird On The Wing is gloriously sweet and empathetic. The closing Married Woman captures a woman looking at her husband with disdain and frustration, but ‘standing by my decisions’. Adams may never achieve real commercial success, but he seems comfortable, and increasingly artistically successful, exactly where he is.