Curated by music industry veteran Michael Wood and featuring bands managed by his Broken Sounds Booking agency, the perfectly-named 2015 compilation Broken Hearts Broken Sounds is truly eclectic. The eighteen artists featured here certainly show the variety and overall quality of the music scene in North and South Carolina, a region that’s largely ignored by a music industry that tends to focus around a handful of “hotspots.” While the combination of tracks here is a mixed bag, in the end this release would certainly offer something (or many things) that would appeal to most every listener.
The album’s opening salvo is a noisy but somewhat delicate, shoegaze-like track from The Veldt called “It Breaks My Heart.” With a light, electronic rhythm, throbbing harmonic chords, and a breathy main vocal, the hazy piece gradually builds to a louder and more substantial climax of erupting drone guitar. “Cry Wolf” from The Affectionates has a more old-time feel to it, built around twangy guitar and hissy main vocals. I really like the overall imperfection and roughness of the piece: it sounds kind of grimy and worn out which suits the lyrical material very well. Hyphen Burnhole’s “Sweat Meat,” on the other hand, is a crisp modern rock number that’s a definitive guilty pleasure. Upon my initial run-through of the album, I had to immediately repeat this track just to make sure I was hearing it correctly: while the high pitched male vocal during the verse carries on dialogue about and unnamed female, a commanding voice during the chorus declares he’ll “fuck your fucking brains out.” As a track designed to pickup women then, it’s hilariously profane and more than a little catchy: one of my favorites.
The echoey and world-weary singer-songwriter track “From the Vine” by King of Prussia is about as dissimilar a follow-up track that could be imaginable. With a lonely acoustic guitar line, glowing background vocals, and occasional piano, the piece has the feel of relaxing light country and is nice to listen to even if it’s not quite my cup of tea. Planet Cock’s “Love Song” is a more noticeably bizarre piece, a sometimes ominous drone composition highlighted by a manipulated (and funny) sound sample lifted from 1984’s Ghostbusters. Though largely experimental in nature, it’s surprisingly listenable and actually fairly melodic, with pounding piano chords and a very tight rhythm section. Reminding me a bit of a slower R.E.M. song, “Soul Gem” by LoveyDove has the sound of ‘90s alternative rock with a female vocal. Gorgeous arrangement makes up for the potentially cheesy lyrics of this slightly quirky track, but it’s the first song here that I was somewhat on the fence about. That said, I think some listeners would really like it.
The more uptempo guitar rock of “Not Tonight” by (the fantastically named) Something About Vampires and Sluts is an energetic jolt that pops up at a point in the album where one was needed. Revolving around a confident, soaring vocal, it boasts a familiar compositional structure that’s reminiscent of any number of ‘80s songs. One Bad Apple’s “Birthday” slows things back down for a woozy love song featuring a gruff vocal and a definite sense of yearning, and the much more upbeat and bright “Caretaker’s Eyes” from Sleeping Policemen recalls the music of Mumford & Sons with its stripped-down, folk-like sound. After this trio of more song-like pieces, Me is We’s “Lying Lie” is a bit of an anomaly: a much rougher and noisy track with pounding bass drum and a fuzzed-out, almost indistinguishable vocal. I could almost compare this piece to some of Jeff Mangum’s more experimental and loud early recordings and it’s followed up by another definitively strange track in “Valentina & Tommaso” by Miss Massive Snowflake. Though built around distant, whirring guitar, mechanized rhythm, and a slithering bass, the sound of babbling children is the most prominent element of a track that some might find a bit creepy.
Remora’s “10,004,” a grinding, repetitive piece that unleashes a heavy, bass-driven groove and groany, low-pitched vocals, and Electric Bird Noise’s “neetxis (til death do us part),” a warbly guitar track that almost recalls the soundtracks of various ‘50s horror/sci-fi flicks, are probably the most potentially menacing and jarring tracks here. I’d been familiar with both these groups from their 2014 Christmas-themed releases, and their contributions to this compilation clearly show the “dark side” of the Carolina music scene, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Meanwhile, the Spanish-flavored “Even the Blue” has a melodramatic feel with crisp mandolin, a thumping beat, eerie flute melody, and vibrato-laden female vocals, and follow-up “11-7-14 Wedding Theme for Bria” by Nighttime Tides is a slightly woozy, reverb-heavy variation on instantly-recognizable traditional wedding music. The very earthy instrumental “Velocita di Crociera” by Downlouders recalls for me the music of Popul Vuh or maybe even Pink Floyd with its bubbly, gurgling synthesized tones and relaxed guitar and bass: a very meditative and hypnotic number that’s quite calming late in the album. Swaying along to a crisp beat, penultimate track “Grand Illusion” from Octopus Jones stands as pleasant slab of soft rock with a warm melodic structure, and the compilation concludes with the lengthy drone composition “Glassera” from Silver Screen Orchestra. There’s a nice sense of buildup through the early portion of this track followed by a cathartic release – it sounds like something that might have been heard in Kubrick’s 2001 though I suspect it would be something that listeners will either love or hate.
Every track here is quite accomplished in its own way, and the whole of the album is extremely impressive: about as perfect a sampler of the very diverse Carolina music scene as one could get. I’m definitely interested in hearing more from several of the artists featured, and the amount of really outstanding tracks here means that virtually everyone would find at least one track they really like. Since it’s being offered for a limited time as a free download, I’d urge anyone who likes good music to jump at the chance to pick up Broken Hearts Broken Sounds on the Silber Records bandcamp page. Highly recommended – four and a half stars.