Landscapes in the United States are changing at an increasingly rapid rate. Entire mountaintops are sheared off to gain access to coal, city buses are painted and turned into giant movie or department store advertisements, and serpentine housing developments spiral ever outward from urban centers across prairies and deserts, from seaport to bustling seaport. Right now you're thinking, "Even Omaha?" Well, I've never been there, but after listening to Broken Spindles latest, Fulfilled: Complete, I'd say "Yes, friend, even Omaha." The mental landscapes that the album conjures reflect the chaotic sprawl and tumult of modern times, and you can dance to it!
Broken Spindles is the product of Joel Peterson (bassist for Omaha's the Faint), who began the project as accompaniment for a friend's video piece. The initial soundtrack work has led to two albums, a self-titled debut for Tiger Style, and the current release for the omnipresent (in a good way) Saddle Creek imprint. Broken Spindles' infancy as music for film is no surprise; Fulfilled: Complete feels as much a visual document as a sonic one, even without the video pieces shown at Peterson's live shows. Midi beeps and thumps crawl along the bottom like a CNN news ticker on your television screen, unrelenting. The occasional organic texture of piano or a string section sweeps to alleviate the tension somewhat, but even those parts fracture off or slink back into the storm.
The first song, "Induction", starts with skittering, IDM-flavored percussion and builds from there, gathering strings and other accoutrements along the way. Low pulsing tones are balanced by high whistling that sounds a bit like shoes sliding on a basketball court. It's a beautifully cinematic opener for the album. The sounds accumulate, growing richer and fuller until they peak and descend into whispers. "Fall in and Down On" follows, breaking the spell with harsher beats and introducing the heavily processed vocals that turn out to be Broken Spindles' Achilles' heel (2002's debut was sans vocales).
Although the rhythm of the vocal locks in perfectly with the industrial dance beats, the whole business of lyrics feels flat. With a few exceptions, the vocals don't convey anything that the music doesn't already. "Fall In" asks "Will you fall in and down onto your knees / Bruising the caps and where your spine used to be?" A good question to be sure, but the strange dissonant violin notes and pounding momentum more than do the job of creating a haunting, S&M-ish atmosphere. The cold, flat singing does little more than announce its own spookiness.
The next pair of songs repeats the pattern of alternating instrumental and vocal tracks. Each piece feels like a reaction to the one before it. "Song No Song" begins with single piano notes bouncing from speaker to speaker before increasing in frequency and coalescing into fluid, staccato line. The production is crystal clear, and even through the reverb you can hear the wood of the keys tapping down as static wafts through towards the end of the track. If "Fall In" was a dungeon party, "Song No Song" is the rueful hangover the next day, when your floor is littered in receipts and tags and you've got nothing to show for it. Then "To Die, for Death" brings the vocals back in, this time with the hook, "I'm ready to die, I'm ready for death". Again, we have an issue with redundancy. The songs could all get away with at least half of the words they currently employ.
The one exception to this is "Events and Affairs", whose lyrics might be the linchpin for the record. Not only does the song feature the catchiest part on the record in the form of a skronking guitar, but the words have resonance for the whole album. "I've got a paper subscription / I've got a new television / I try to make it make sense but what I watch and read it feels like the end". Here, the words go beyond mood and get interesting. It's a short song, just over two minutes, but it makes you want to start the album over and reevaluate what you've already heard. Fulfilled: Complete is far from it -- it's schizophrenic, paranoid, and nervous. "Events and Affairs" grabs you because it hints at why. We should investigate further.