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Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 12 / 1 / 2013

Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor
Label: Merge Records
Format: CD


Stripped back and delicate debut album from Crooked Fingers, the current project of Archers of Loaf’s Eric Bachmann

Somewhat unusually, I am reviewing a ‘new’ album that I have actually been listening to all year. In fact, having been given this album – on a hunch – by my brother last Christmas, who had heard one song and thought it sounded like my kind of thing, I have listened to it more than any other album in 2012 (at least weekly, but often several times a day). I hadn’t realised that it was an import release, and that the official UK release date would not come until now. I’d heard a handful of Crooked Fingers songs before I heard ‘Breaks in the Armor’, but not many. Oddly – but probably because I liked this album so much – I still investigated the back catalogue in much detail. You will probably know Eric Bachmann (who to all intents and purposes is Crooked Fingers) as the singer from 90’s alt-rockers Archers Of Loaf (the missing link between Pavement and Sebadoh). In his work since, he has delved into folk balladry and alt-country. ‘Breaks in the Armor’, released shortly after Bachmann reconvened his old band for a successful tour, is stripped back but probably betrays his indie roots more than Crooked Fingers lush earlier work. Bachmann, tall and powerfully built, looks more suited to playing drums in a metal band than crafting delicate indie-rock, and yet his dedication to his craft is such that it sees him living permanently out of his van – never spending more than six months in a single place. ‘In the past, Bachmann has locked himself away and done nothing but write (and lift weights!), though this album apparently came together at a more relaxed pace. Crooked Fingers – once a full band – is now essentially just Bachmann. Where previous albums had boasted elaborate accompaniments, here is joined only by Liz Durrent, whose backing vocals tend to be found rather low in the mix. The pared back style suits him – these songs are sharp and focused, the arrangements delicate and we are left without a wasted note. Take, for example, the guitar solo on the album’s prettiest track, ‘Heavy Hours’, a part so simple that almost anyone surely could learn to play it in a few minutes, and yet which captures the track’s delicacy perfectly. Bachmann said in a recent interview that the songs that excite him most are those where he imagined the words and the music at the same time. All these songs feel like that – you never feel that the song is overpowered by a guitar part, or that he is trying to shoehorn lyrics into music that doesn’t quite fit. Meanwhile, his vocals – often delivered with a similar twang to those of Bruce Springsteen’s on ‘Nebraska’ – pack a wide range of texture into a fairly limited range. That all said, I shouldn’t oversell it – these are eleven simple songs, played on guitar and occasionally piano, with tastefully constructed, minimal backing. The melodies stick in your skull, but each of the eleven songs on this album are maudlin, downtempo shuffles (you might even say ‘grumpy’). Bachmann is not shooting for a 90+ score on ‘Pitchfork’ here. And yet, I can’t recall an album on which so little goes such a long way. Within a small musical palette, Bachmann achieves an awful lot – he is by turns wistful, angry, lovelorn, anguished, hopeful and despaired. What’s more, there are tons of little details here – an unhinged guitar break or an unexpected harmony line – that suggest total creative freedom. It may be a modest album, but it is not unambitious. If you are anything like me, you will play this album over and over again.

Track Listing:-
1 Typhoon
2 Bad Blood
3 The Hatchet
4 The Counterfeiter
5 Heavy Hours
6 Black Candles
7 Went to the City
8 your Apocalypse
9 War Horses
10 She Tows the Line
11 Our New Favorite

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