Thursday, October 3, 2013

Broken Anchor Squeezes It Up Fresh

Austin Hartley-Leonard
As a singer-songwriter, Austin Hartley-Leonard originally built his following and the St. James Inc. band in Austin, Texas. It immediately saw some success, enough to earn an invitation to Lollapalooza in Chicago en route to Los Angeles where the band even lent some tracks to film and television.

Shortly after moving in what seemed like the right direction, Hartley-Leonard met Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields) and broke away to restart his solo career. It was a smart move, one that further entrenched him in his folk-rock roots until last year when everything started to change for him again.

Looking for a more dynamic sound, Hartley-Leonard turned toward lo-fi indie pop with alternative folk leanings. The sound is still sharply Hartley-Leonard, but simultaneously bigger and lighter for the artist and his new bandmate.

Broken Anchor squeezes something fresh and easygoing. 

The album opens up with the bass thump and guitar jangle of Always, a song about having nothing to do about forever. Hartley-Leonard opens with warming vocals in the cold of January but it quickly slips away in the second verse with his muse leaving for a stranger.

The memory of being with someone who leaves you behind is bad enough, but he almost callously clings to the good times before the break. The chorus reiterates it, haunting with its repetitive "you were always in my eyes." Except, he wasn't always in her eyes.

This isn't the only place where there is a quiet depression laced into the lyrics and hidden beneath an uptempo beat. Despite the uplifting sound, much of Fresh Lemonade is about a relationship that looks like lemons. Even the best-known single, Leave The Light On, swoons and begs for second chances.

Subtle and subdued, the music alludes to a happy ending but there never is any payback beyond the memory of better times. And it's this contrast — an ocean spray tone but pained delivery — that is precisely what caught my attention.

Fresh Lemonade shoots for a tricky niche, with Broken Anchor trying to decipher an anthem-sized sound with the intimacy of an indie pop band. Sometimes they really nail the novelty of it. On a track like Canada, another good memory that ends in a departure, it feels big but never gives up on sprawling suburban closeness.

Much of the album is just like that, with little variation in theme or style but some big change-ups in fullness. Broken Anchor knows how to hold back on some tracks, keeping it simple on the overtly airy Dear Diary, dreamy Stencil Heart, and soaring two-part pop opera My Marie.

Except those lighter affairs aren't my favorites. The better tracks have a clearer rock undertone. Head Is A Hole starts out as a minimalistic track until allowing for a short instrumental explosion. Broken Anchor Blues rolls along with a mellow alternative rock vibe, thanks in part to the percussion of John Wells (tracks 8 and 9).

Other percussion credits include Simon Hancock (track 10) and the singularly named Quinn (track 4) with the balance by Mike Duffy, who has since signed onto the band. Other guests include producer Brad Gordon (bass, organ, piano), Jonny Flaugher (bass, track 4), and Jason Kanakis (guitar, tacks 5-7). Props to both Hartley-Leonard and Gordon for keeping it all consistent.

Fresh Lemonade By Broken Anchor Squeezes 4.2 On Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Broken Anchor is a great moniker for Hartley-Leonard to spin his songwriting efforts in a new direction. Much of the lo-fi California dreamy indie pop sound makes for a great debut. All Hartley-Leonard really needs to do is lock in permanent bandmates to move from a consistent sound into something more permanent. With Always, Canada and Head Is A Hole, he is on the right track.

You can catch the self-released, full-length Fresh Lemonade by Broken Anchor on Amazon. Fresh Lemonade also debuted on iTunes. Broken Anchor played a dozen or so shows in Los Angeles and a handful on the East Coast and Midwest. Follow them on Facebook.
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