1 Dec 2015

How We Got To Now by The Broken Heartbreakers

From The Sampler, 7:35 pm on 1 December 2015
The Broken Heartbreakers

The Broken Heartbreakers Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger travels through the personal and political laments from the southern folk trio.

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When vocalist Rachel Bailey sings ‘Put on a record, ‘cos I want to cry’, somewhere in the middle of the excellent new album by Dunedin-based band The Broken Heartbreakers, this could be just the record she has in mind. Because, in a way, it is an entire album of laments. A longing for home is one of several themes that run through the songs, all of which were written either by Bailey or her partner John Guy Howell, with whom she formed The Broken Heartbreakers in Auckland more than ten years ago. It’s been a long journey; one that has taken the couple across oceans, with spells in Ireland and Australia, and which finally saw them return a couple of years ago to live in Howell’s hometown of Dunedin, where they made this new record.

Both Bailey and Howell write about the personal tensions exacerbated by travel, and there is homesickness and displacement – as well as moments of joy and comradeship – in these songs. But they have also been affected by the politics of the places they have been, and Bailey – who was born in Ireland - addresses her observations of that country’s economic changes in very direct terms in ‘Twenty and Ten.’ Howell is no less pointed in his political laments, though it’s hard to tell whether the chorus of ‘Revolution of the Wolves’ – with its deceptively sweet, slightly ‘Daydream Believer’-ish melody - is about Ireland or New Zealand. It might be either, or both.

Acoustic instruments have always been at the heart of The Broken Heartbreakers’ sound and the acoustic playing on How We Got To Now is classier than ever. But there is also more electricity in this record than the Heartbreakers’ have used before, and it increases the album’s depth and range, from the gentle jangle of ‘Revolution of the Wolves’ to the big Byrds-ian Rickenbackers of ‘I’m Not Dead’. And there are moments when Howell’s newfound love of loud almost turns them into a whole different band; like the guitar jam at the end of the opening track, in which things take an unexpected turn for the psychedelic, or towards the end of the album, when you think they have already shown us all their tricks, and they unleash a horn section as Bailey wails on a big torch ballad.

But through folk-rock, psychedelia and soul, The Broken Heartbreakers’ How We Got To Now is connected by a thread of melancholy; songs in which the personal and the political, the inner and outer worlds, turn out to be inseparable. You might say it’s the kind of record you put on because you want to cry.

Songs played: Somebody Please, Breaking Branches, I’m Not Dead, My Sense Of Wonder, When You Don’t Have Your People, Revolution of the Wolves, Twenty and Ten, Cry