PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Breaking Laces: sohcahtoa

Matthew Wheeland
Breaking Laces


Label: Sidewinder
US Release Date: 2004-02-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

There is a nearly unbreakable rule in rock: You can't go wrong with a banjo. Songs from Octant's "Mince Up" to Broken Social Scene's "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" all benefit beautifully from some good pluckin'. A corollary to this theorem is that a handclap can do no harm. You put this concept to the test on your own time, but a couple of good places to start your search are the Meters and the first track from the New York City band Breaking Laces.

That song, "God in Waiting", opens with a spicy kick-drum and handclap rhythm, and all is suddenly right with the world. "God in Waiting" is about as perfect a single as has ever existed. It's relentlessly catchy, clever and self-deprecating all at once ("No time for fornication / But when I quit my paper route / She'll want my body").

Breaking Laces bill themselves as an indie nerd-rock outfit, complete with black plastic glasses and songs about being gigantic nerds. sohcahtoa, the inscrutable title of their debut album, should bring fear to the hearts of math-phobes everywhere: Sine = opposite/hypotenuse, Cosine = adjacent/hypotenuse, Tangent = opposite/adjacent.

Yes, the boys of Breaking Laces used trigonometry to name their album. But it's not math-rock. Nor is it particularly nerdy, despite songs with titles like "Geek in Love" and "Global Warming Day". There is, however, a lot of promise on this album, a great deal of potential that is only intermittently realized.

Chief Breaking-Lacer Willem Hartong definitely puts the nerd in Breaking Laces' nerd-rock; according to his bio on the band's Web site, "he's a rated chess master, avid reader and writer, trivia whiz, and has a near par handicap. He also has invented his own dialect appropriately named 'Willemese'."

As the man behind the music (band-mates Rob Chojnacki and Seth Masarsky joined after Hartong finished sohcahtoa to take the Laces on the road), Hartong has cleverness to spare, and a perfect rock and roll voice: good tone, great falsetto, a touch of rasp, a pinch of nasality and just the right amount of whine. His songs are well crafted and on the best tracks he's created marvelous tension between music and vocals.

When Breaking Laces rocks, it rocks hard. "God in Waiting" is worth the price of admission all by itself. The other standout track on sohcahtoa, "Global Warming Day", mines a similar vein, with punchy guitars, shouted background vocals, and a generally infectious melody.

Beyond these high notes, sohcahtoa wallows in a blander form of rock. At its best, as on "Okay" and "Light Up for Me", it's pleasant but smacks of by-the-numbers music composition. The nadir of the album is "Meagan", a well-intentioned love song that devolves into painfully generic soft-rock balladry.

The road to rock stardom is littered with the bones of clever pop rock. Apparently Harvey Danger, the creators of my last favorite pop song, "Flagpole Sitta", are apparently still performing, but have long since dropped from the cultural radar. On the other end of the spectrum, a band like Weezer has carved a place in the rock pantheon with their own clever, perfectly constructed rock marvels. Breaking Laces definitely achieve some Weezer-like moments on sohcahtoa, but here's to hoping that Willem Hartong and Breaking Laces can perfect their formula.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for the day when someone releases a single that's all handclaps and banjos. It will be the sweetest sound you've ever heard, or I'll give up my tenure as a rock scholar.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.