Wednesday, May 13, 2009

5 Greatest Albums: The Broken Remotes - 'Tonight's Last Stand'

I don't know how to review this album.

Full disclosure. Jon Leahy is the creative force behind this band and he and I are close friends and collaborators. I played my first show in Los Angeles with an early incarnation of Jon's band, he's produced a good bit of my music, and he is basically an honorary O'Malley.

But it is not my closeness to Jon that renders this review a treacherous little ride. His music is unsettling while being deeply satisfying. His lyrics feel like that moment every kid has, standing in the dark of their room, hand stretched out to a closet door, willing themselves to get over the fear and just open the damn door already. Before you open the door what's behind it is real.

His voice is quite often tucked around a killer guitar. He doesn't insist that you hear every word. He is not hiding or mumbling which many of his indie rock brethren do. But the music is so assured that he is confident of how it will land. So he'll whisper, he'll be restrained, he'll let the crash of a drum or the drone of an organ do the talking for him. Until the moment strikes.

When Jon Leahy raises his voice something CONCRETE happens. There is a retroactive aspect to this...when you hear that roar you realize that he has been sitting on it. That he doesn't feel the need to use it unless it is absolutely necessary. That his expression is deliberate.

I can't tell you how many times I've been disappointed in singers when I feel them riding their favorite part of their voice. They aren't concerned with the song or what needs to be said. They are concerned about sounding as good as they can. They are like big sluggers who can only hit fastballs. It's all well and good until someone throws you a nasty curve.

The Broken Remotes write songs that are (to continue the baseball pitching analogy) filled with curves, splitballs, knuckleballs, high heat, brushback pitches, flat out beanballs, and even the occasional wild pitch that flies into the stands.

And like a Rubik's cube one move from completion there is a sense of breathless anticipation to EVERY SINGLE MOMENT on this album. Like the kid outside of the closet. Like a man on a bridge. Like a car about to roll. Like a finger on a trigger.

Somehow they manage to maintain that tension without sending the listener over the edge into some sort of panic attack. Mostly 'coz the shit is fun to sing along to. Leahy's voice has that deceptive quality all great singers have in that you hear it and want to sing along. Then when you do you are struck by how HARD he's actually working, how difficult it is to be a real front man. Go listen to The Broken Remotes and it will help you clear all the posers out of your iPod.

The song titles have what I call totemistic qualities. They seem like physical things. They could be mantras. They have power.

Shut Off The Machines
Stick With Me, Kid
Lose The Swagger
This Time Is The Exception
On The Take

I could type each song on the album but I'll let you discover those for yourselves. Just like you discovered that there was no monster in your closet. But if that's so, why do you still get afraid?

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