What do you get when you mix Midnight Oil with Violent Femmes, add a dash of Hunters and Collectors to taste & roast in a hot Fender twin reverb tank? You get The Break of course! A surf inspired “supergroup” (although I’m getting kinda sick of that term).
More specifically the group consists of Oilers Rob Hirst (drums), Jim Moginie (guitar, keys) and Martin Rotsey (guitar), Violent Femme Brian Ritchie (bass), and Hunter & Collector Jack Howard (trumpet).
One look at the (fantastic) album cover and you’re given a glimpse into the otherworldly dimension of kitschy surf-fi soundscapes you’re about to enter…but more on that later.
Choosing to play what is essentially instrumental surf rock is possibly a brave move by the group, after all the genre fell out of favour in 1964! It has enjoyed a resurgence in more recent times thanks to various film soundtracks and bands like Man or Astro-man?…in fact The Break’s overall sound and imagery owes quite a debt of gratitude to the Alabama 3 piece outfit.
So, possibly not the most original debut album in history then? Well, no. But that’s not the point. The group have assembled themselves to compose and play the music they love…and if it’s executed with passion, precision and creativity, then originality need not be a factor…need it?
After a brief introductory chant by Tibetan monks we are unfortunately smacked right in the face with unoriginality by the title track, which, in its early stages sounds like a carbon copy of Pink Floyd’s “One of these Days”! However, as the track progresses, its structure and melodies begin to evolve and we are introduced to the twanging surf guitar that is ubiquitous across the album. After the initial shock of “Hey! Isn’t this a fucking Floyd song?” has worn off, it’s actually a really nice track and builds to an impressive instrumental crescendo. This song is actually a bit of an anomaly on the album. It’s not really indicative of the rest of the content. “Day 300” follows and it proceeds to show us what this album is all about….
…And it’s about twanging surf guitars through spring reverbs, spaghetti western soundtracks and ’60s sci-fi sounding analogue synths. I could leave the review right there really. That’s what you get with The Break. If you like that stuff, you’re gonna like this album (in theory) as it’s all there in spades!
This is definitely music that’s reminiscent of the mid ’60s when those sounds were in their heyday. It’s certainly a recollective work, but with modern production values and some slightly over-clever arrangements which needlessly complicate the record at times.
There are some nice tracks for sure, but most of it is fairly humdrum. Being mainly instrumental (besides a few wordless shouts and hums), the melodies NEED to give the tracks direction in lieu of a lead vocal, and they just don’t. Save for a few highlights, the whole thing sounds like a backing track for a petulant singer who refused to turn up. Unfortunately a singer DID turn up for one track. Englebert Humperdinck sings lead vocals on a cringe-worthy version of his own track “Ten Guitars”. You’d think this touch would add nostalgia and kitsch value…well, it doesn’t. It stinks. It’s not so bad it’s good, or even so bad it’s bad…it’s so bad it’s worse! The song is a purulent festering boil on the track listing. While we’re in negative-land, the final track “Space Farm Suite: Psychonauts For Freedom” features an annoying free form monologue over more Tibetan monk chants and space-psych synth & guitar drones. Like “Ten Guitars”, it’s a pointless derogatory addition to the album and should have been left off.
Well, after that unfavourable paragraph, let’s indulge in some contradictory gainsaying and point out the positives…of which there are just enough to prevent the thing from being a complete failure.
“Tumbling for Aeons Through Turbid Atoms” features some rather prog inspired sax playing reminiscent of early King Crimson. Along with this, there is some sparkling xylophone which accompanies an interesting wordless hummed vocal line.
“Sky, I Use You Like a Mirror” is a slow, sweet track with an infectious guitar melody and is perhaps the most nostalgic and evocative track on the album. It’s also the penultimate track…and it should have been the last! Psycho Space Farmers go Nuts or whatever it’s called should be stricken from the record!
Despite its Pink Floyd ripoffery and general displacement the title track is one of the strongest cuts. It builds and builds with crashing drums & guitars to a terrific harmonic ascension…and makes most of the other tracks seem flaccid by comparison.
I really wanted to like this album. Its main musical elements (surf, sci-fi & westerns) are among my favourite kinds of music, and to have them all combined by a group from my neck of the woods was an enthralling prospect. Unfortunately, despite some redeeming moments, Space Farm is pretty damned drab and the derivation from Man or Astro Man? far too conspicuous.