Stationed in an East Berlin studio – away from ‘Bretonlabs’ – crafted from the shell of a communist radio station from the 1950s, Breton find themselves on the cusp of releasing their second LP, War Room Stories. Their first, Other People’s Problems, wowed many an onlooker, due to the crisp melding of multimedia projects, experimental artronica and straight-up indie rock, and this follow-on is set to turn more heads. It’s no major detraction from the sound they first peddled, but more an advancement of certain elements – a subtle evolution as opposed to resolute revolution.
The sounds the band were particularly keen to hone in on were the ones integral in creating an exceptional atmosphere, and the ones that would turn the record into a truer representation of their live selves. What they are exactly is up for debate, but they had noble aims and, for the most part, they seem to have achieved their goals. How they’ve gone about this is another matter. The electronica-to-rock ratio has shifted, which is perhaps the most obvious alteration, with the synthesised strands now assuming a diminished role. It’s not that Breton don’t sound different, because they do – there’s a freshness, a deeper involvement with the details rather than a reliance on OTT riffs or glitching explosions etc. – but the fine-tuning, on the whole, is so fine that it’s imperceivable to the naked ear.
Kicking off proceedings is the bombastic lead single Envy. Appearing before us as an amalgam of Two Door Cinema Club and Foals, it’s a lick-heavy barrage of summertime pep. In the blip-bloops and synth sprawl and six-string squeaky noodling, there’s a clarity. Maybe it’s just the sound of steel pans that knock our brains into the realms of scorching rays and white sands, but there’s a sun-snogged optimism that shines through the hustle’n’bustle that Breton ooze. It’s a track clearly designed from live environs; it’s all big choruses and singalong hooks. It’s refreshingly simple – texturally thick still, but simple. It sets a precedent that’s mostly adhered to for the rest of War Room Stories.
S4, with the mechanised whirs and post-dubstep/R&B click-lunges, is a sultry quasi-ballad crammed with feeling and razor keys. Swooning strings in the track’s denouement scream schmaltz, but the music, as with Breton’s output as a whole, avoids being insipid simper-fests due to their ingenuinity and forward-thinking prowess. While a minor strand, such as rom-com violins, are on their own a tad sentimental, accompanied by a thumping rhythm section and shadowy brass, they’re something else entirely. Legs & Arms, also featuring brass and thumping rhythms, sounds a bit like Jamie T fronting Red Hot Chili Peppers and then covering Nine Inch Nails. It’s a recipe that oddly works. It’s grandiose and eclectic, but they pull it off.
Overall, the record’s quite the assortment. Got Well Soon is grinding deep house sodden with malice, space-age ditty National Grid is encrusted with icy synthpop shards, Closed Category sounds a bit like Editors, and Brothers couldn’t be more James Blake if it tried. While they haven’t been torn asunder in their growth from their first record, they’ve made teensy adjustments. Instrumentation, and the way the use it, doesn’t appear to have changed all that much, but where a track on Other People’s Problems may have been a feral dance-rock beast with talons like Crystal Castles‘, the same number on War Room Stories would be a taut, svelte leviathan, carefully sizing up its prey. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon causes a hurricane on the other side of the world, Breton’s attention to detail has made the all-encompassing tone of War Room Stories differ vastly.