Hey all, today’s the first full album New Music review of 2013! Today’s group is London-based indie pop Being There, and Breaking Away is their debut album.
The first word that comes to mind to describe Breaking Away is “airy”. The band favors jangly guitars and a rhythm section that stays light on its feet; think 1980s college rock that skews towards the shimmering instrumentals of dream pop, and you’ve got a good starting point. “Airy” also describes frontman Sammy Lewis’ vocals, which are breathy but tuneful, and still grounded in young playfulness. The lyrics, bouts of wistfulness and nostalgia for late adolescence and the power of mixtapes, are more than likeable through his delivery. The record’s unpolished production adds to the dreamy haze of some of these songs; opener “Allen Ginsberg”, driven by a clean rhythm guitar with occasional lead guitar and bass, feels light enough to fly away at any second. It almost feels like more of a composition than a song.
Some songs on Breaking Away share that “composition” feel. While it’s a little more sped up and features drumming, “Back to the Future” is still an understated tune, where the main action is in Nick Olorenshaw’s nimble guitar work, including a blistering closing solo. “Over Me” is an exercise in instrumental minimalism; for most of the song, a lone guitar line serves as an accompaniment for Lewis, who is drenched in reverb. And while it crosses into pop song territory, the point of “Infinity” still seems like the band showing that they can work acoustic guitars into their sound successfully. Most of the songs clock in between two and three and a half minutes; the same cannot be said for six and a half minute “Silent Runners”, the album’s most ambitious offering. The first half of the song is fairly standard for the record, but it’s followed by a noisey coda and reprise outro that drifts into post-rock territory. It’s a well-textured experiment that pushes the band past their perceived comfort point.
That’s not to say that Breaking Away doesn’t have great pop moments, either. As good as the previous mentioned songs are, they require a few listens to stick; the opening combo of “Allen Ginsberg” and “Back to the Future” makes Being There sound a little thinner than they really are. The first fully-realized song on the album is the immediately enjoyable title track. It’s a nice slice of post-Britpop; the riff is catchy, there’s a short but enjoyable rise and fall to the verses, and the chorus is great too. Lead single “The Radio”, an already sunny track, gets a boost from its bright synth hook, and a nervous gleeful energy that sounds like anything could really happen. For my money, “Tomorrow” is also a standout; it keeps the poppy energy of the other songs mentioned, but also features some impressive guitar work that blends the line between shoegaze and pop.
Like some of their college rock influence, Being There turn up the noise on a few songs. The band never gets as noisy as, say, the new Bleeding Rainbow album, but they stomp around on “Punch the Clock”, where the drums hit a little harder, and the song’s defining feature is the scrapping electric guitar. A little lighter on its feet and more dynamic is “Up”, which sustains the jolt of energy on the album’s closing stretch.
The most sizeable complaint about Breaking Away is the sequencing. It makes sense that a dream pop group wants to put some of their more textured material up front, but tossing something as single-ready as “Tomorrow” or “17” towards the front would break up the sameiness of both sides (post “Silent Runners” is a string of four poppier songs).
All around, though, Breaking Away is a great listen. It shimmers and rocks in all the right places, and shows a young group with considerable technical skill, as well as a surprising range that rewards first listens and repeat spins in equal measure. Go ahead and check them out, you won’t be disappointed.