Fingertips Flashback:The Broken West (from January 2007)

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a ride in the Wayback Machine and dug out a song from the archives. So, it’s Friday, it’s 11/11/11 (this has nothing to do with anything but everyone seems to like the date), let’s do it.

The Broken West

“Down in the Valley” – the Broken West

[from January 22, 2007]

Big Star meets Wilco; irresistibility ensues. With its muscular tom-tom beat, feedbacky guitar, sloppy-tight harmonies, and organ solo, “Down in the Valley” walks that great great line between power pop and garage rock–a line walkable only by bands that really know what they’re doing. As a matter of fact, although the year is young, I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find in 2007 another chorus as infectious as this one. Two things in particular make it work so well. First, the set-up: after the verse (starting at 0:38) we get a two-line lead-in before the chorus, and the chords that finally usher us in are both perfect (a classic series of resolving steps) and imperfect (they’re hardly actually there; rather they are largely implied). This is why, I think, we’re left in such a delicious state of anticipation at 0:46, waiting for the chorus to give us the resolution we crave. (It does.) Second, the harmonies, and specifically the harmony in the second line of the chorus, where the melody repeats but the vocal harmonies, has shifted. What I’m talking about: compare the sound of the harmonies on the word “sundown” (0:50-51) (the voices are singing the same note) to the harmonies on the words “no one” (0:57-59)–here the backing vocal splits off, going up a whole step while the melody goes down a third and we get that mysterious fourth interval for a note and there, that does it for me. Perhaps for you too, now that I mention it? The Broken West is a young quintet from Los Angeles who sound as broken in and familiar as an old pair of slippers. “Down in the Valley” is from the band’s disarmingly titled debut CD, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, to be released tomorrow on the excellent Merge label.

ADDENDUM: The Broken West released one more album, Now or Heaven, in 2008, then rather quietly split up in 2009. Front man Ross Flournoy is now in a new band, Apex Manor, along with one of his Broken West band mates and a couple of new recruits. Apex Manor, you might recall, was featured on Fingertips in January of this year. Flournoy also took a shot at the Fingertips Q&A in December 2010.

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