[a]Breton[/a] are a peculiarly modern proposition. They didn’t start out as a band but swerved into it when they began producing live soundtracks to their films. That this ‘art collective,’ incubated in south London’s makeshift spaces – all sketchy car parks and vibrant experimentation – should turn out a debut as casually brilliant as ‘Other People’s Problems’ is not surprising in itself. But that it should sound so vital, kind of is. That sound you hear, by the way, is a million dole-queue guitar bands slipping from the ledge of impotence into the abyss of irrelevance.
This outsider, multimedia-led perspective, rather than affording them a mannered distance, has resulted in a bold, promiscuous approach to art-rock, reminiscent of the auteurism of These New Puritans or the uncompromising intelligence of Foals. Opener ‘Pacemaker’ begins with a field recording of rolling stock, before segueing into a violin arrangement by German composer Hauschka – commissioned specially by Breton, apparently – which is then cut up, sampled and mixed up with a scuzzy, overdriven hip-hop beat. As openers go, it exemplifies the wealth of ideas that power the band like a batch of military-strength amphetamines.
“[i]Why are they trying to salvage what we’ll be leaving by the side of the road?[/i]” bristles vocalist Roman Rappak on ‘Electrician’ while muted piano does battle with dissonant organ. He has a point. The speed with which Breton tackle ideas is dizzying; it would almost be untenable if it wasn’t for how much heart they cough into it. Imbuing claustrophobic math-rock with slithers of Afro guitar and soaring string arrangements, as they do on ‘Wood And Plastic’, is the kind of thing most bands leave until the second album.
The shattered ‘Ghost Note’ expertly articulates a vague sense of alienation through the kind of synth that house music pioneer Joey Beltram got off on as much as Rappak’s cracked incantation of “they decide, they decide, they, decide”. Hell, ‘Edward The Confessor’, with its eczema-dry 808 percussion, seasick vocals and blunt synths that hammer like a tension headache, sounds a bit like what everyone wanted the Tom Vek comeback to sound like. Only better.
However, it’s testament to the band’s confidence that they leave their finest moment until last. ‘The Commission’ harks back to the urban malaise and half-step snap of 2010’s ‘Counter Balance EP’. As a pulsating synth heaves in and out of focus over fibrous static, Rappak’s vocals are twisted and scattered across the sheer expanse, tracing a line between the ruminating timbres of Burial and that other soundtrack to skunk and disenfranchisement, trip-hop. Weirdly out of time with the rest of the record, it suggests that Breton have barely scratched the surface of what they want to, and what they can, achieve.
- Record label: FatCat
- Release date: 26 Mar, 2012