‘War Room Stories’ sounds like a band cut adrift
London is changing, and changing fast. Last summer, the bulldozers rolled in on an abandoned NatWest bank in London’s Elephant And Castle, razing the area for a new block of luxury flats. But this bank wasn’t totally abandoned. Deep in its belly lay BretonLABS, a legal squat space that acted as studio, factory, rehearsal space and living quarters for the band Breton. BretonLABS ran like a backbone through Breton’s debut album, ‘Other People’s Problems’. You could hear it in the grit-grey guitars, the angular MPC beats, the roomy natural reverb and the inner-city pressure. Now it’s all dust and rubble before the yuppies move in. This difficult second album could be more difficult than most.
It’s probably no coincidence that ‘War Room Stories’ was recorded far from London. The title is a reference to Funkhaus Studios, a former eastern bloc government building in Berlin’s Mitte district, and the opening ‘Envy’ suggests transience is playing on their mind: “You’re a tourist/There’s nothing wrong with that”, sings frontman Roman Rappak. “What you never could have noticed/Is how your bags were packed”. A skippy mix of sparkling steel drum melodies, electronic blips and classical strings, it’s the poppiest Breton song to date, but delivered with a melancholy that’s wrenching: “You’re only here as long as they rented it to you”.
BretonLABS might be gone, but ‘War Room Stories’ echoes – and in places, expands upon – its intricate production. ‘S Four’ is one of five tracks here to employ the 44-piece Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra, pizzicato strings shunted forth on sped-up Burial beats. ‘Got Well Soon’ is a 3am k-hole of glinting synths and wheezing bass fog. Weaving through the moody beat clap of ‘302 Watchtowers’ is what sounds like the chimes of an antique music box.
What diminishes ‘War Room Stories’ is the songs themselves, which can feel a little ordinary. Rappak’s vocal is a bit sub-Yannis Philippakis, a monotone half-mumble that doesn’t make the most of his intriguing lyrics. Elsewhere, tracks pile layer upon layer onto subtle opening sketches, which buckle under the strain. Perhaps the same was true of ‘Other People’s Problems’, but that album sounded a lot like the anxiety and confusion that came from living in London in 2012. ‘War Room Stories’ sounds like a band cut adrift.