Organic and collaborative in spirit, the music of ‘The Queens of the Breakers’, third studio album by The Barr Brothers fittingly mirrors the band’s genesis, a musical collaboration between drummer and guitarist Andrew and Brad Barr and classically trained harpist Sarah Pagé. The former two, members of the guitar led, indie, jam band The Slip; the latter, known for her collaborations with renowned Montreal, singer songwriter Lhasa De Sela came together after Brad was enchanted by harp music coming through the walls of his new Montreal apartment shortly after moving in.
From this chance beginning they went from strength to strength, being nominated for Juno awards (in 2013 and 2015 for Adult Alternative Album of the Year) and making two separate appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman – performing songs from their first and second albums respectively.
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Thematically, the band says that “‘Queens of the Breakers’ was born out of reflection of what home and family mean now, after the effects of life on the road” – and to varying degrees, its tracks effuse a sense of nostalgia.
Amongst the more obvious candidates are ‘Song that I heard’, the album’s third track, that fuses a tale of revisiting old ground and the chance encounter of a mysterious muse with an upbeat, folksy plucking of acoustic strings.
What’s more, the ballad seems to lend meaning to the song that precedes it, which with a more ambient meshing of light percussion, electric strings and occasional tinkling of Pagé’s harp, re-iterates the moral of enjoying the present through the lyrics “look before it changes/ because when it changes/ it changes for good”.
Remembrances of times gone by permeate the album elsewhere, namely in the title track; perhaps oddly an upbeat rock and roll song that stands out against the band’s typical style, but nevertheless does justice to memories of summer’s gone by through the rhythmic, cheerful major chords strumming away in the backdrop.
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Musically, this album differs from the Barr Brothers previous two studio albums. There is less of a sense of delicacy that comes across in ‘Sleeping Operator’ which could be due to the fact that some of the songs – ‘Queens of the Breakers’ and ‘Hideous Glorious’ – were originally recorded as acoustic and later overdubbed as an electric band.
The rockier leanings of ‘Maybe Someday’, a cover of a song by former band mate and collaborator to the brothers, Norman More from electro folk band Surprise me Mr. Davis, as well as ‘It came to me’ carry more than a hint of their origins in The Slip.
The differing musical influences of this record do not mean to say that the band has altogether lost their affinity for experimentation. The opening track itself, featuring vocals from members of the band Lucius, contains a drumbeat moulded on the beeping of an EKG heart monitor, which along with softened vocals give it an ethereal feel. And it’s not the only track on the record where the lyrics add more in musicality, than they do in meaning to the architecture of a song.
Elsewhere, their full instrumental pallet seems to be on display in ‘You would have to lose your mind’. Brad Barr’s partly auto tuned lyrics build with synthetic strings, as the song twists into an almost piercing music high point, pushing the boundaries of Pagés harp.
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In all, ‘Queens of the Breakers’ is a pleasant patchwork of music from the Barr brothers skirting the boundaries of genres with its sounds and influences from members of diverse musical origins.
The full tracklist below is:
1. Defibrillation (ft. Lucius)
2. Look Before It Changes
3. Song That I Heard
4. Maybe Someday
6. You Would Have to Lose Your Mind
7. Queens of the Breakers
8. It Came to Me
9. Hideous Glorious
10. Hideous Glorious Part 2
11. Ready for War
‘Queens of the Breakers is out now on Secret City Records’.