Release Date: Jul 15, 2014
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
Conceived as a modern successor to the 70’s rock opera, written by Anand Wilder of psych pop wizards Yeasayer and friend Maxwell Kardon and featuring members of Chairlift and Dirty Projectors among others, it’s fair to say that ‘Break Line’ is not your everyday album. Loosely based around the US town of Greenbelt and the fictional loves and losses of its inhabitants, the result is a record that fully embraces the theatricality of its genre but falls just on the right side of ridiculous. ‘They’re Stealing Our Coal’ is a harmony-laden Neil Young porch-side gem; ‘Opportunity’ goes from gangster ‘baddie’ stalk to a full-on gospel epic, while ‘I’m To Blame’ answers the question ‘what would Radiohead: the Musical’ sound like? The answer, bizarrely, is ‘actually quite great’.
A peculiar, occasionally mesmerizing, yet ultimately impenetrable indie rock musical, the debut album from Yeasayer co-founder Anand Wilder and multi-instrumentalist Maxwell Kardon falls stylistically somewhere between Fleet Foxes, Van Dyke Parks, and TV on the Radio, and its fever dream of a plot, which according to the press release was inspired by a 2004 jam session that found the pair "improvising lyrics about a labor conflict in a Western Pennsylvania coal town that their fathers had learned about from an old folk song taught in Quaker schools in the 1950s," is a largely ephemeral affair concerning robber barons, feisty maidens,, and hard-drinking union workers, culminating in a particularly spirited town square hanging. Wilder and Kardon enlisted a small army of guest musicians for the project, including members of Yeasayer, MGMT, Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, and Dragons of Zynith, and it boasts a refreshing and inclusive, old-fashioned '70s-style prog-pop vibe. That said, outside of Wilder's intoxicating faux-country/chamber pop gem "Wedding Day," which charmingly evokes the Kinks' excellent and largely misunderstood Muswell Hillbillies LP, and the formidable presence of Dragons of Zynith frontman Aku Orraca-Tetteh, who infuses the magnificent and soulful opener "Coal Into Diamonds" and the quieter, yet no less commanding "Fathers and Brothers" with a gravitas that most of the other tracks strain for, yet never achieve, much of Break Line remains elusive, relying too heavily on its loosely knit and oddly delivered (each song is sung by one vocalist, yet a peek into the liner notes reveals that they're taking on multiple characters) narrative.
Break Line The Musical is the final product of a project that began a decade ago, when Yeasayer's Anand Wilder and pianist Maxwell Kardon decided to create a record based on 'a labour conflict in a western Pennsylvania coal town that their fathers had learned about from an old folk song taught in Quaker schools in the Fifties'. Because of busy schedules and the like, the project has been knitted together from stolen moments over the last ten years where the pair (and their many contributors) managed to write and record bits and pieces of the record. It's strange to hear a musical for the first time, rather than watch it.
Over the last five years, a group of Brooklyn musicians got together and recorded songs from a planned musical about a doomed interracial romance in a Pennsylvania coal mining town, drawing inspiration from an old folk song taught to children in Quaker schools in the 1950s. No, that’s not a summary of a special East Coast episode of “Portlandia”—this actually happened. Break Line the Musical is a song cycle written by Yeasayer vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Anand Wilder and pianist Maxwell Kardon, and work on the project began a decade ago when they were fiddling around with a guitar and a banjo on a front porch in Philadelphia.