Instead of Frightened Rabbit’s stripped-down rock sound, Broken Records goes for an expansive, “Funeral”-era Arcade Fire sound based as much in pounding piano lines as in charging guitar riffs (although they have their fair share of those, too). They set up their ambitions from the outset, as opener “A Leaving Song” builds to a crescendo of pounding drums, soaring choirs, roaring guitars, rising piano and powerful vocals not even two and a half minutes in. Then they bring in the organ. Yeah, they go big.
Other songs feature strings, sleigh bells and more. The best use of strings is on the single, “A Darkness Rises Up,” where quick-paced strings lend a sense of urgency to the tune. Directly next is “Aliene,” which relies even more on strings to create a haunting mood; it’s powerful, but “A Darkness Rises Up” is shiver-inducing.
The affected vocals of Jamie Sutherland sound like a Scottish version of The Killers’ Brendan Flowers, which is surprising, but interesting. The songs don’t delve into dance motifs, but they do have a propulsive thrust through most of them that keeps Sutherland’s occasionally maudlin vocals from turning this into a cryfest.
There are shades here of many indie-rock tastemakers. “The Motorcycle Boy Reigns” appropriates The Walkmen’s forlorn moods, while “I Used to Dream” sounds creepily like The National, even in the way Sutherland phrases his lines. But tunes like “You Know You’re Not Dead” and “A Darkness Rises Up” take the best of what’s been done and combines those parts in ways that make it distinctly Broken Records.
Another comparison to The National before I go: This album takes some time to grow on you, just like the bros Dessner and co. But if you let it seep through your ears for a while, you’ll find yourself in love with these Scots. Their command of emotional rock is strong, and this is only a debut. Here’s to more! —Stephen Carradini