Album Review: Breton – War Room Stories

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The South London quintet, investing their time as Breton in both music and film making, have come up with a brilliant second album – but don’t expect to be fully hooked into it straight away.

Breton have often been described as a slightly laid-back version of Foals, which I have felt to be a little unfair. Both Breton and Foals are great bands in their own rights. Breton’s frontman Roman Rappak may sound very much like Yannis Philippakis, but the former’s band deliver their own fresh brand of energy – funky, complex rhythms mixed with a blend of indie guitars and chopped-up samples and synths – all of which are present in ‘War Room Stories’.

Opener ‘Envy’ is full of spark and energy with a tropical-sounding hook and stop-start rhythms which somehow manage to flow seamlessly. The chorus is absolutely perfect, building up and up and layering sounds as it progresses, including some great steel pan flourishes, blending well with Rappak’s lyrics: “Cause you’re a tourist, there’s nothing wrong with that, what you never could have noticed is how your bags were packed”. It’s poppy and grabs your attention immediately. But this is not an indication of the album as a whole – the following tracks ‘S Four’ and ‘Legs and Arms’ are slower in pace and require a few listens to really get into the grittiness of the atmosphere. The contrast is interesting – ‘Envy’ sounds like it could soundtrack a summer holiday, whereas tracks such as ‘S Four’ and ‘302 Watch Towers’ portray a rather moody urban soundscape. ‘Got Well Soon’ is another bleak and tense track but more synth-driven than the others, pulsing away rather aimlessly at times until it eventually culminates into an explosive climax.

National Grid’ is my favourite song on the album – beautiful guitars float over a very sparse percussive rhythm until it drops to a slightly dubstep-infused beat accompanied with bass synth stabs in the chorus. In relation to other songs, it’s a pretty straightforward and accessible song but it fits well in the middle of the record, especially if you feel a little lost with some of the other songs which take a while to get used to.

Whilst recording this album in Berlin, Breton enlisted some help from the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra which is quite a bold move for the still relatively unknown band. Until now, they have relied on samples and pads to expand their sound, and bringing in a live orchestra has changed their dynamic, very much for the better – ‘S Four’ in particular makes use of violins plucking against the skittering hip-hop beats and adds to the murky mood. The mix of live strings with samples of things such as spoken words and glass being smashed in the album is a combination which actually works very well.

Breton have created a record which doesn’t appear to have a clear direction, but for me this is not a bad thing. Some songs stand out and grab your attention straight away, but the majority of the songs will require a few listens to really make the most out of what they are. It’s a grower, but a very rewarding album.

 

 

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