The Barr Brothers are Dynamic as Ever on 'Queens of the Breakers'
I first heard The Barr Brothers when I saw them open for The War On Drugs a few years back. Their nostalgic, fragmented, and divisive alt-folk that constantly resists any tangible classification immediately infected me with a sense of sentimental ennui, and to this day, one listen to “Even The Darkness Has Arms” or “Beggar In The Morning” is enough to lift me up and bring me somewhere else entirely. Their third LP Queens Of The Breakers—some of the most dynamic, cogent songs the band has released to date— just feeds this fire.
Queens comes three years after Sleeping Operator: a dynamic soundscape of roots and Americana elevated by delicate, sonic intricacies that render the songs understated and emotionally robust. On this LP, nostalgia and the shadowy, emotional clamor that trails it revives its role as a driving force behind the band’s music, but this time around, they aim to expand their boundaries, often evoking gritty indie-rock while also holding onto faint notes of the folk sensibilities that informed their sound from the start. The result is a dense, compelling album that further asserts the band's eclectic finesse.
“Kopromat”, a rumbling, dusty rocker, is built around a gritty, ‘90s grunge rhythm section, while the guitars on top of it are all arid, desert rock with a prowling, outlaw-country edge. Songs like the tumbling, riff heavy “Maybe Someday”, and “It Came To Me”, which sounds like a full-blown ‘90s rocker with a tinge of heavy, crawling roots.
The grungy breakdowns on these tracks are a sharp contrast to the band’s softer material, which only presents itself on Queens of the Breakers with “Song That I Heard”. This melancholic, soothing, and fluttering acoustic song is a soaring testament to the sheer emotional weight of music and how to can get in your head and reassemble everything to it’s liking. For me, it calls back to the first time I heard Springsteen’s Born to Run, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, and—at risk of dissolving into total sappiness—the first time I heard The Barr Brothers.
The best moments on Queens of the Breakers are found in the balance between starry-eyed folk and grungy, wavering rock. This is showcased with ease on “Hideous Glorious”: a youthful, windows-down indie-rocker, and “Ready For War: a blooming, saccharine, closer to the record that features haunting walls of vocal harmonies. However, there are times where the band’s sonic ambition feels aimless; driving towards an evasive horizon. The expansive, sparse “You Would Have To Lose Your Mind” is a downtempo, scratchy crawl through a steadily rising bouquet of strings and a rusty guitar lead that forms a tense harmony with the vocals. Despite its rich instrumental character and vocal production, the lengthy, six minute song never quite feels like it’s going anywhere. If the rest of this album is any indication, however, The Barr Brothers are going somewhere: just not backwards.
Even Queen of the Breakers’ less vibrant moments form a spirited portrait of a band that doesn’t acknowledge any firm limitations. They’ve been trying to separate themselves from their more straightforward, folk predecessors since their first album, and on this record, they’ve grown into their defiance.
Listen to: "Song That I Heard", "Ready For War", "Queens of the Breakers"
Queens of the Breakers is out now on Secret City records.