Reviews - Broken Dog





(Tongue Master Records)



An interesting release here from Broken Dog. It’s a defiantly ‘indie’ record, but certainly has charms, not the least that it is very nicely packaged and presented. Always a good sign.
If something is described as ‘background music’, it is often taken as a criticism. But there is something nice about music that you can put on, but which doesn’t distract you in any way. Of course, there is a place – a very special place – for music that demands one’s undivided attention, but music that can enhance the atmosphere of the room, especially when you are reading for example, that you can appreciate without procuring total involvement to, is very useful. 'Harmonia' achieves that liitle function nicely. Indeed, it is a very mellow, pretty album and makes the world feel a nicer place whilst it is played. It reminded me a lot of Saddle Creek’s Azure Ray, with the female vocals and delicate accompaniment. Broken Dog need some more engaging songs to be considered truly a complete band, and this album is probably a little samey to be considered great, but neverthesless a more than welcome contribution.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master)

The Sunday Times - December 12, 2004

Records of the Year
The Sunday Times music reviewers select their top 10 pop and jazz albums of 2004


Dan Cairns

1 JOANNA NEWSOM: The Milk-Eyed Mender
(Drag City)
The press concentrated on this Californian’s flower-child image, gnomic utterances and unorthodox instrumentation (the harp) at the expense of what proved to be the year’s most fiercely original album, with vocals pitched somewhere between a coo and a caterwaul, lyrics that namecheck Camus and music that melds Elizabethan madrigals with Appalachian folk.

2 THE KILLERS: Hot Fuss (Lizard King)
One of pop’s greatest debut singles — Mr Brightside — was followed by an awesome first album. Some viewed the Las Vegas quartet’s update of glam and 1980s electropop as daylight robbery; but when a band uses the spoils this thrillingly, frankly, who gives a damn?

3 KINGS OF CONVENIENCE: Riot on an Empty Street (Source)
The reigning monarchs of melancholic dance-folk emerged from the Norwegian woods with a second album of, at times, almost unbearably beautiful music. Passion and regret have never sounded this lovely.

4 SUFJAN STEVENS: Michigan (Rough Trade)
A journey in the dark: there was simply no way of knowing where Stevens’s tales of ghostly rust-belt towns and endless rural vistas would take you next. This wistful, ambivalent love letter to his home state delved into folk, country, minimalism and bluegrass to devastating effect.

5 KANYE WEST: The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella/Mercury)
As mischievous rumours circulate that West is just one overcooked room-service burger away from flipping out, it’s worth remembering that the man dropped 2004’s most compelling reminder of why we spent all those years looking to hip-hop for thrilling innovation.

6 NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS: Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (Mute)
A double album on which Mr Cave and co rode the twin horses of dark, galloping rock and even darker balladry, in the company of gospel choirs, inspiration both divine and infernal, and some of the most extraordinary lyrics this twisted preacher-poet has ever produced.

7 FRANZ FERDINAND: Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
Sweeping all before them with infectious, triumphant ease, the Glaswegian art-rockers hoisted the flag of sing-along, dance-along pop with a brain in the upper reaches of the charts — which were all the better for it.

8 CATHY DAVEY: Something Ilk (Regal)
The Dubliner took the trusty tools of guitar, scorching singing voice, pad, pencil and dragons to slay, and wrestled them into an exceptional debut that veered exhilaratingly between fury and ecstasy.

9 FEIST: Let It Die (Polydor)
The year’s best new singer, this Canadian former punk relocated to Paris to conjure a haunting set of folktronica seen through a Gallic glass (darkly).

10 BROKEN DOG: Harmonia (Tongue Master)
One of Britain’s most underrated bands laid out a glacial sonic terrain of muzzy, jangling guitars, hushed vocals and bleak yet beautiful songs



" Harmonia " (Tongue Master) 8/10

This is Clive Painter and Martine Roberts' fifth album under the guise of Broken Dog, a project that travels on starry, ethereal journeys through glacial soundscapes. At times " Harmonia " glides into the realms of Mogwai's mellower moments, as on " I Do Not Trouble ", or towards The Postal Service's warped urban electronica (" Alone With A Pounding Heart "). Throughout, Martine's angelic vocals echo Aimee Mann's lo-fi delicacy, but on a higher register that reaches for the heavens. " Origin Is Unknown " is dainty flawlessness, whirling the listener away with mini crescendos of lament. This is a dreamy affair that sweeps you into a slumber, massaging your ears with swathes of blissful instrumentation. Music for hippies, certainly, but Broken Dog's appeal should stretch wider than that, to anyone who sometimes needs a perfect comedown after a stressful day. " Harmonia " is the zenith of music to relax to.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master)

" Folk " as a musical genre has rather been reclaimed from the bearded real ale types, but for me, previous Broken Dog releases were still a wee bit too folky for my tastes. However, they're on their fifth album now and boy, have they come on, making a comparatively dense, big sound which contrasts with their stripped-down past releases. A sparseness and strangeness pervades " Harmonia ", soundscapes are built up and torn down - I hesitate to use the word ethereal but Martine Roberts' vocals have a airy breathy quality. However, there are also hints of Mercury Rev, Grandaddy and The Delgados, as Clive Painter makes enough sound to fool the listener that there's a full, slightly unconventional orchestra in the studio at times. Despite the slow almost deliberate pace of the 9 tracks here, the album flies by, while the song titles speak for themselves - the triumphant peak that is " Radios " has what it takes to be a favourite on the wireless, while " Waiting For Something Big " shows that Broken Dog may indeed have finally arrived.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master Records) * * *

Broken Dog are at the intersection of avant-ambient and neo-folk music, drafting slow-mo acoustic across hushed electronica and the celestial effect that sounds like the dreams of sleeping children. Lifting them above the sludge of similar bands is outstanding vocalist Martine Roberts, who recalls Hope Sandoval and Stina Nordenstam but also survives with her own persona intact. " Harmonia " is the London band's fifth album and, alongside more mainstream bands such as Zero 7, sounds almost perversely uncommercial. Lovely, if only for those late nights when you can't be bothered to listen to anything else.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master) ****

If Broken Dog's Clive Painter and Martine Roberts were from a hip backwater in the States they would be much bigger, after five albums, than they are now. Their collective vision is one that walks the same melancholy dirt roads populated by the likes of Low and Mazzy Star. Multi-instrumentalist Clive paints the musical backdrop with brushed guitars and swathes of psychedelic Harmonium effects while Martine's haunting, breathy vocals add colour to the picture. Broken Dog create a wall of sound in much the same way that Phil Spector or Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine do. Yet, theirs is a more gentle, folkier approach. The emotional impact is just the same though, with tunes like the beauteous, brass-tinged " I Do Not Trouble ", or " Alone With A Pounding Heart " which brings to mind the atmospheric, cinematic vision of early Goldfrapp. The country-tinged " Waiting For Something Big " and the sublime " Radios " have a stark and mysterious beauty. The darkly gothic " I'll Think Of It Today " is " Harmonia's " finest moment in a collection of nine near-perfect tracks.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master) **

The day a shoe-gazing indie band who write ethereal songs about love and ennui (delivered with spooky emotional detachment) set these to anything other than shimmering, filigreed guitar and wheezing keyboards will be the day we know the revolution is nigh. But who needs something as untidy and inconvenient as revolution when you can have Clive Painter and Martine Roberts, back with a fifth helping of coffin-table music that is as beautiful and sepulchral as much determinedly insular music can be? So delicate it seems to leave only a trace of chill breath on your neck, " Harmonia " is almost certainly embedding itself slowly but surely in your unconscious. " Don't sing to me, don't let that sweetness near. " intones Roberts, doing precisely what she cautions against. Wonderful.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master) **** 1/2

Those drawn by lovely, lonely, trance-inducing melancholy will be thrilled at the return of Broken Dog following a two year hiatus. In the interim Clive Painter and Martine Roberts have been busying themselves raising the likes of (The Real) Tuesday Weld, Sigmatropic and Monograph to higher planes, returning with an all-too-short (38 minute) set of twitchy noir, otherwordly ethereality and rumbling threnody. Roberts' perpetually erotic baby-doll voice takes centre stage, but the real stars are Painter's vivid, multi-instrumental constructions; intricately folded, almost symphonic pieces that aren't so much arranged as forced into strangely-shaped boxes - one minute evoking a colliery band, the next decamping to Twin Peaks. Remarkably - for this is their fifth album - they're still revealing untapped potential. Wow.




" Harmonia " (Tongue Master) ***

Dreamy lo-fi duo deliver diaphanous career-best

One suspects, frankly, that fans of the diffident lower-case furrow ploughed by introspective boy-girl combos ever since Fraser and Guthrie first sculpted with powdered sugar and Hope Sandoval whipped her minions to attention will happily buy this noise by the filmy yard. Londoners Clive Painter (honeyed guitars) and Martine Roberts (breathily sotto voice) have always met audience expectations, but their fifth outing as Broken Dog sees the surpass their dreamy brief with shy aplomb, undercutting lassitude with uneasiness (" I'll Think Of It Today "), icy starlight with scratchy dissonance (" Alone With A Pounding Heart") and, in the full-blooded swell of " Waiting For Something Big ", a glorious glimpse of May sunshine through those wistful, wintry skies.




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