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Wednesday, 28 February 2007 00:00

The Broken West nails vintage pop — in all the right ways

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It’s the tambourine that gives it away. Those insistent eighth notes from the piano during the chorus, the sparkly harmonies — yeah, these guys are fans of “power pop,” all right. The good stuff too, like Joe Jackson (no, not Michael’s dad) and Alex Chilton, George Harrison’s earlier solo work and all that other stuff that manages to sound like a blindingly sunny day while somehow still breaking your heart.

 

The Broken West isn’t a band that’s been around for “all these years” either. No, they formed a few years back in Southern California and found an identity right from the start, it seems. Signing with Chapel Hill’s Merge Records, they released I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On in January of this year. And as unpolished as they might want you to think they are, there’s an attention to detail and arrangement in this set of tunes that smacks of anything but slop — they might look like The Replacements, but their sense of harmony and sound is all Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds.

In a tune like “Shiftee” the band pours on the vintage pop affectations without coming across like they’re ripping anyone off. Sure, there’s a nod to at least 14 Beatles ideas in there, with the acoustic intro eventually merging with a watery synthesizer blip, giving way to a big ol’ mess of tortured guitar arpeggios — but in the end The Broken West makes it their own.

“Big City” saunters in like classic T-Rex, all clanging piano and larger than life, gritty bass guitar, with a little jam in the middle that threatens to take flight like something from Sticky Fingers. Take a listen to “Slow” and try to deny the visions of the Kinks dancing in your head. There’s not a song on this album that’s missing an “ooh” or “aah” somewhere, a clever restatement of theme or recasting of a melody that draws you further into the music and propels you through the album.

It’s that sense of momentum that might be The Broken West’s most formidable asset — the ability to fill up an arrangement without causing it to falter or stumble under the weight. Some of this can be attributed to the multi-instrumental nature shared by the band’s members, which affords a wider scope and appreciation for texture than a bunch of guys that are narrowly focused on just being “the bass player” or “the guitar player.”

The band’s production is a plus as well; with an abundance of grit providing even more of that classic 70’s pop vibe. Ross Flournoy’s vocals usually sound like they’re pushing the meters into the red, the guitars are often mercilessly compressed and the drums never give in to sounding “big.” Not that they necessarily sound “small” either — the point is that all these elements (songwriting, sounds and recording methods) conspire to lend I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On a feel that treads a comfortable line between endearingly dated and contemporary.

Currently in the midst of quite a busy tour, The Broken West will roll into Asheville’s Grey Eagle Music Hall on March 21, with The Walkmen and Ferraby Lionheart. March 21 also is the 80th day of the Gregorian Calendar, the birthday of Croatian violinist Zlatko Balokovic and Mother’s Day in Lebanon — none of which have any relevance to the band, but could prove useful ammunition for your bar banter should you choose to attend the show. Which you should.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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