March 1, 2007

Breaking New Ground

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The Broken West sizzles in the blazing sun of their hometown, Los Angeles — crafting indelible power pop that urges for a Top Down summer drive all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway. From the legacy of ancestors—Beach Boys, George Harrison—to osmosis of greats—Wilco, Spoon—and improvement upon contemporaries—The 88, Rooney—The Broken West perfects their California sound confirming that the west is still alive and full of possibilities.
Electric-eel-synthesizer and rattle-snake-tambourine detonate with “On the Bubble.” Retro candy-apple vocals carry the song as 1,000-Watts rage through this powerful number. “On the Buddle” makes you want to sing along the first time you hear it. Only after learning the lyrics—“Take some time to work it out/ Each new day brings one more doubt/ I’ll be OK/ I’ll be in trouble”—it becomes confirmed: this band really is not much more complex than they sound. But sometimes simple is hard to do, and The Broken West has perfected the straightforward sound. How do I get this record off repeat? Now that is the real puzzle.

The second track, “So It Goes” crackles with jingle-jangle guitars (see: The Byrds), as lead singer, Ross Flournoy’s voice flutters (see: Marshall Crenshaw). While “Down in the Valley” borrows the introduction from Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man.” No matter how recycled any of their material may be, The Broken West remains enticing—the quality to sound familiar while still remaining special.

The following song, “Shiftee” describes the landscape of Los Angeles. The song begins with tender guitars that become a self-parody with space-age keys and pseudo-serious vocals. The song has a certain kitsch appeal; the line between sincerity and parody is blurred.

Lyrically, “Shiftee” is confusing: “Life’s a ship/ You sunk it with your lips.” A tidy rhyme makes this line seem frivolous. But the lyric is more of a balancing act between sincerity and silliness—a moving picture of Los Angeles. Sung on top of a slightly discordant arrangement, the song feels right—it describes the duplicity of Los Angeles and of pop music, maybe even of love.

The Broken West is best heard on “Big City,” another number that paints a pastiche image of Los Angeles. Beneath the familiar ’60s psychedelic-pop, an ’80s hair-metal monster from the Sunset Strip is creeping its way out. And all the while ’90s college-rock drums thump, and ’70s glossy piano crescendos. “Big City” is a song with big ambition and wide influence—the song distinctly evokes a sense of place, but exists without a specific time. Maybe this timelessness is what makes The Broken West a success. The band draws on a hodge-podge of influences to make something distinctly now, not new. “Big City” is remote and familiar. Like the west of America’s past, it carries our dreams for the future. As Flournoy sings, we’ve all “got sunshine on [our] mind[s]!”