Monday, October 19, 2009

"The Sound Inside," by Breaks Co-op

A few years ago, I was reading a magazine article written by the legendary Sir Elton John. He had been asked to host a series of guest editorials. Each month in his column, the pop icon would rant about the demise of the music industry, or he would rave about a new development or rising star in the beleaguered business. One week, he singled-out a New Zealand band, “Breaks Co-op.” In fact, the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer actually telephoned the band to tell them just how much he loved their funky, trip-hop influenced debut, The Sound Inside, calling it the best album he had heard that year. He also told Breaks vocalist, Andy Lovegrove, that he is one of his favorite singers. Not a bad endorsement. Well, what’s good enough for Sir Elton John is certainly good enough for me. I downloaded the album that afternoon, and it’s been spinning regularly on my iPod for three years now.

Simply put, The Sound Inside is extraordinary. Within the first few moments, the album grabs the listener by the shirt collar and demands attention – in the nicest possible way. The first thing that strikes the listener is the hypnotic, hopped-up drum loops on the lead-in, title track. The band’s inventive use of random, seemingly found audio clips and outer-space atmospherics draws you in. Beyond this, the album treats the listener to engaging and instantly memorable melodies. In fact, almost every song on this album would make a viable single, not that KISS FM would ever play them. But perhaps the best part of this album, and what I view to be the band's trump card, is the staggering, Crosby, Stills, & Nash-inspired vocal harmonies. Hamish Clark, Zane Lowe, and Andy Lovegrove blend their voices so flawlessly, so pristinely, that you’ll wonder if you’ve ever heard anything so perfect.

And vying for the best song on the album is the arresting, “A Place For You.” The song describes in flawless detail the rapture, uncertainty, and perpetual butterflies that come with negotiating a new relationship. “Should I place all my faith in you?” Lovegrove sings, “Should I open up and let you in?” The single acoustic guitar on the song is perfectly surrounded by lush strings and a surprisingly fitting bongo drum to provide pulse for the music. But what I most appreciate about this song (and this band) is the testicular fortitude to bravely reveal a startlingly tender male perspective, rarely heard in pop music (or anywhere else): “I have this place for you. I’ll make it safe for you. Don’t make me wait for you now; just come right next to me.”

Another contender for best song, and my personal favorite, is “LMA (little miss anonymous).” This bouncy, skip-along song is essentially a variation on the same theme of “A Place For You” and contains one of the most exquisite vocal harmonies I’ve ever heard. Ever. Especially when they sing in the second verse, “I don’t know if you think of me, but, I’m the one who wants to be there – close to you. If you were mine…” It’s a perfect pop moment.

But I’m just focusing on the love songs. The overarching theme of the entire album revolves around what feeds you - the inner world that guides how you live. The songs on The Sound Inside are about understanding and protecting your heart as it relates to the world around you: owning up to and challenging your own ideas and prejudices, expressing your love and your hate, taking care of your friends, your family, and yourself. This album perfectly explains the joy and stress of living each day and celebrates all of it. C.S. Lewis once said that love isn’t made complete until it’s expressed in some manner. This album does just that – expresses delight in the world around us, the jubilation and the agony, from the perspective and the capacities of the human heart. The Sound Inside is, therefore, a perfect soundtrack to life: completely engrossing, wonderfully validating, and wholly reassuring.