Breaks Co-op - The Sound Inside

Ok, close your eyes. Not your actual eyes... your "mind's eye." Take a deep breath. Now imagine the freshest mountain air. You’re in a blue station wagon driving across a wet New Zealand beach with The Breaks Co-Op, and they'd like to have a word with you. They'd like to share some insight, some trip-hop beats, some laughs. They'd also like you to bring along an acoustic guitar… it's ok if you're a beginner. This music is for everyone. You could invite your friends, your enemies, even - dare I say - your parents. (Ok, please don't stop reading - I'll take back the "your parents” comment.) But really, these are widely universal topics, accessible to almost anyone with a beating heart. The Breaks Co-Op have very tastefully blended classic American folk, soul, and jazz with modern beats, effects, and samples.

The name Zane Lowe probably doesn’t mean anything to you if you’re American, but he’s huge in the UK. Essentially a hyperactive, Generation Y version of John Peel, Lowe is a BBC Radio 1 DJ with a notoriously sharp taste for quality underground music. He is also well-known for hosting the MTV2 Europe show, “Gonzo.” He is considered to be rowdy and off-putting by some, and an unlikely founding member of a laid-back band of jazz-inspired songsmiths. With the collaboration of his equally impressive band mates, however (Hamish Clark on electronics/samples/percussion and newly-added producer, multi-instrumentalist, and soul singer, Andy Lovegrove), the trio have managed to create a truly great album.

The Sound Inside is a beautifully inspired record. Released in the band’s hometown in New Zealand last year, it's already gone double platinum, with lead single, "The Otherside," the No. 1 airplay hit of 2005 and winner of Song of the Year at the New Zealand Music Awards. Not a bad start, considering The Sound is being released in the US just this week.

If you're familiar with the bands debut 1997 record, Roofers, take another deep breath, open your mind. "There's a better way, take my word for it. You'll feel the same, you'll feel the same." Sorry, these lyrics are infectious. That's right: lyrics. The band has developed a completely new sound and approach from Roofers, which is somewhat of a blueprint for British instrumental trip-hop in the vein of artists such as Massive Attack and DJ Shadow. Don't be too disappointed though. The Breaks admitted to being bored with covering old ground, and hoped to compose their second record with organic instruments and vocal sounds.

Their songs are filled with positive messages of hope, love, and self-respect that would make a Woodstock-era Volkswagen driver sprout flowers. The tone- setting track, "The Other Side,” features crooner, Lovegrove, channeling What's Goin' On era Marvin Gaye on lead vocals over a bed of effortlessly executed Crosby Stills and Nash style vocal harmonies. Their acoustic guitar work reminds me of 70’s folk-rock group, America, with the addition of a tremolo-drenched Fender Rhodes. All of this organic goodness births phrases such as, "Get yourself into a better place and lift your life”…"hold your head up high, on the other side"…and (I don't kid), "The earth puts forth a new life again. Green grasses grow and flowers lift their heads, and over all, the plain wonder spreads of life." Ok, on that note, who wants to go skinny-dipping?

Also deserving note is The Sound Inside’s testament to lovers. The down-beat, yet up-vibed “Last Night,” is a perfect example. "Kiss me gently now the lights are out. Trace my finger from your mouth to your ear, 'cause your mouth doesn't speak and birds don't sing, and I don't sing. Last night, I dreamed of you and me."

There are a couple of surprises, such as the pointed, biting, bitter, and brutal, “Settle Down.” It features eyebrow-raising lyrics with honest poison such as, "Saw you on a tightrope. Had I known the outcome, I'd have cut the wire. It seems the more you suffer too, the more I settle down, and I hate you." The music video for this song features two hunting buddies in the woods with rifles. One of them goes off alone, and the other shoots him, and leaves him to die in the snow. Yeah… so there's that. You can use this story to invoke an awkward silence at dinner parties.

Another standout is the sincere cover of (I fall in love) “Too Easily.” The 1940’s Jazz standard, made famous by Frank Sinatra and (my favorite) California horn and piano aficionado, Chet Baker, to whom the band honors with a subtle, tasteful trumpet solo in the song’s bridge.

My favorite track is the sleeper of the bunch and also the album closer, titled simply, "Twilight." It's a nighttime blend of detached slow beats, immediate bass lines that ebb and flow, an angelic female vocal phrase, more electric piano, vibes, and echoing guitar. It's very simple, peaceful, and at the same time, moving.

Aside from the fact that it’s a well done and highly enjoyable record, it’s nice that it was completed by a group operating outside of their individual stereotypes. I guess that’s our unwarranted privilege as Americans in this situation. We don’t have the “daft DJ” image in our mind, and probably haven’t even been exposed to their instrumental debut, Roofers. Because our heads aren’t full of the back story of the Breaks Co-Op, we have more than enough room for The Sound inside in its purest form, and in all of its sun-baked beauty.

--Part Swedish Chris

Release Date: June 14, 2006

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