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Now or Heaven

The Broken West

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Album Review

The Broken West's debut album I Can't Go On, I'll Go On was full of sunshine. The big, bright guitars, lush and sweet vocal harmonies, and huge, friendly hooks called to mind bands like Teenage Fanclub or Beachwood Sparks; bands who sound Californian through and through, in other words. On the follow-up, Now or Heaven, they strip almost all of the sunshine out of their sound. The big chiming guitars are replaced with thinner, almost Spartan tones, the drums are often provided by machines, and the optimistic feel of the record has vanished. The template for the group's sound has shifted from sunny indie rock to more dramatic and precise indie rock. More Spoon or Walkmen than TFC, more New York than California. Luckily though the quality of the songcraft remains mostly undiminished, and if you can weather the sea change in sound, Now or Heaven is worth a listen. The best songs, like the jumpy opener "Gwen, Now and Then," the quietly urgent "Embassy Row," or the energetic "Perfect Games" could have, with a few more guitars added, fit in fine on the debut. Most of the rest are good, no-thrills indie rock with only a couple of tracks that really fall flat. "Elm City"'s icy synths and hushed tones are less dramatic than they are clichéd, and "House of Lies" comes off way too much like Spoon Lite. Along with these stumbles, the main problem with the album is that it doesn't sound like I Can't Go On, I'll Go On II. Sure, bands should progress and change things up so they don't keep making the same record over and over but, really, another record that sounded as good as I Can't Go On would have been OK. It would have been welcomed with smiles and sunshine even. As it is, Now or Heaven is good enough but too derivative and uneven to be seen as anything other than a mild disappointment.

Biography

Formed: 2004 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

The Broken West hailed from Los Angeles, which certainly makes sense when you listen to the band's combination of pop, high-spirited rock & roll, and accents of folk and country, whose overall blend recalled some of the best L.A. music of the early '70s, as if Emitt Rhodes had teamed up with the Byrds. Featuring Texas native Ross Flournoy on vocals and guitar, Connecticut-born Dan lead on guitar and backing vocals, California sons Brian Whelan on bass and Scott Claasen on keyboards,...
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Now or Heaven, The Broken West
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