At once sweet and powerful, “Broke” appears the picture of simplicity: straightforward melodies, one ear-catching effect in an otherwise uncomplicated arrangement, matter-of-fact singing. But there is strength and mastery on display here if you listen for it.
The song is built upon two related but slightly different verse melodies and an extended chorus that comes with a sort of addendum to it. This is how it manages to have the feel of accessible clarity and gratifying complexity at the same time—that is, it’s on the one hand just a verse and a chorus but on the other hand not really. The moment that seals it for me is the wonderful chord change we hear in the chorus (first time at 0:45, along with the words “somebody hear me out”). It’s especially effective because the chorus has just started, and had already engaged us with the textural change delivered when the swirly electric guitar is replaced by a richly strummed acoustic just as the drummer kicks all the way in. And so the chord change at 0:45—taking us into momentarily into a minor key—was not “required” by the ear. And is all the more persuasive as a result. This is neither rocket science nor avant-garde music theory. But it’s a great moment, which anchors the song as it recurs in each iteration of the chorus.
“Broke” is one of 11 songs on the forthcoming Sea of Bees album Orangefarben (Team Love Records), all of them with one-word titles. (If the web is to be trusted, “orangefarben” appears to mean “orange” as an adjective in German, as in “orange-colored.”) This is the second album that Sacramento-based Julie Ann Bee (birth name Baenzinger) has recorded as Sea of Bees. This one arrives with a pretty heavy-duty personal back story (conservative upbringing, coming out, first same-sex relationship, and then break-up), and yet also, as is apparent here, with great musical joy and know-how. MP3 via Team Love. Sea of Bees was previously featured on Fingertips in June 2010.