[24 January 2007]
When a tiny legal issue got in the way of the Brokedown’s debut album release, they opted to change their moniker to The Broken West, which is appropriate not only because they hail from the western part of the United States, but also because their music tends to embody some of the characteristics we associate with that part of the country. The Broken West display an alt-country sound that has been all but discarded by many independent artists. Their lyrics allude to the isolation and longing of the deserts and valleys while their mellow, alt-pop approach reminds us of decades past.
I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On is an indie rock album that draws more on Brian Wilson-era psych-pop than your contemporary twee aesthetic. The effort is full of modest, pop-rock arrangements with a mild tendency toward country. With a bevy of indelible hooks and ubiquitous vocal harmonies, the album conjures up some inveterate alt-rock acts like Teenage Fanclub and Big Star. Their sound is traditional compared to the complexities and pretensions of other indie rock bands. No annoying syth here, just some humble organs and staccato piano, all of which accompany the catchy compositions of Ross Flournoy and Dan Iead.
The album peaks with the organ fueled romp “Down in the Valley”, which you might recognize from their 2005 EP The Dutchman’s Gold. The song references boozing and watching the sunrise in the Rio Grande—pure depictions of the unfettered expanse of the western territory. The delectable sing-a-long atmosphere is one that maybe only the Hold Steady could pull off, but the Broken West make a valiant effort as the group harmonizes, “No one feels the darkness down in the valley tonight.” The power pop approach continues with “So It Goes”, a song that is oddly reminiscent of ‘90s act Teenage Fanclub. The sound is so familiar that it serves as a painful reminder of how long ago the mid-‘90s were. It leaves you asking yourself, “Am I really that old?”.
The album opener “On the Bubble” features a tambourine and handclap-infused rhythm section that puts the “pop” in the band’s power-pop sound. The band mellows out a bit with “Shiftee”, an acoustic lament from singer Ross Flournoy. “It’s all over now, since our eyes met,” he emphatically croons to the gentle strum of his guitar. The song stretches on to include some lead guitar action and some soothing “Ah"s thrown in for good measure. The love songs, “Abigail” and “Baby on My Arm” are just as delightful as their obvious titles suggest; the latter with its seemingly endless chorus of “I want my baby on my arm”.
While so many indie bands are spending time trying to be cute or ripping off the Arcade Fire, it’s good to see someone revert to writing some good old power-pop tunes. The Broken West has thrown away the pretension to instead rely on solid songwriting and traditional methods instead. Even if you tend to avoid the genre of power-pop like some sort of rare disease, I Can’t Go On… provides an undeniably honest display of some quality rock tunes.