With the amount of time that the Broken West spent on the road supporting their debut I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (review), one would expect the band to pull out the leftovers for album number two. Surprisingly, the band makes an unexpected left turn with Now Or Heaven and they execute this sea change with an authority that will have you questioning how they managed to pull such a Houdini with so little free time to contemplate new directions.
From the sounds of it, the road deadened the Broken West’s sense of optimism. Whatever they saw through the windshield of their van over the course of a year clearly wiped away that wide-eyed possibility and traded it in for the reality that the world ain’t always a pretty place. And when you pin that against the band’s inherent sense of melodic beauty, you come up with some remarkable results.
This is nowhere more evident than “Ambuscade,” an exercise in the sudden realization that some of those you encounter could be “ruthless people.” Propelled by tight rhythms and a punctual bass line, singer Ross Flournoy admits by the second verse that “Hell, I know much better now / Took a while to figure out / Living in the lion’s den / Turned me into one of them.”
To call Now Or Heaven a “maturation” is an understatement. There are moments when the band sounds like a different unit at some points, mining more from old Wire Train records than the power-pop nostalgia hinted throughout their debut. It’s a bold decision, particularly when you consider the thousands of miles the band logged trying to win new supporters. No worries: there are enough recollections to I Can’t Go On to place it next to this one and the new sense of experimentation opens up big possibilities for the band’s output to come.
And let’s be honest: power pop—as enjoyable as it may be—has been strip-mined to near extinction and Flournoy and company appear to have no desire to be pigeonholed as a nifty power pop outfit anymore. While they were completely adept at that genre, it’s clear that the wide-open spaces they saw while on the road instilled an inherent need to not let themselves to be fenced in on their second effort.
With Now Or Heaven, the members of Broken West have found their aural fence-cutter that provides them with a chance to roam free. It’s atmospheric, layered with broad strokes of sound, and propelled by more prominent rhythms. What’s more exciting is its restlessness, the slow evaporation of their sanguinity since the first record. Not only did discontent stir the Broken West to make an album like Now Or Heaven, it helped make it good enough for the rest of us to want to keep following them, regardless of what road they’ll take next.
Stream: Now Or Heaven.