Breton – War Room Stories (Album Review)

There aren’t many bands around right now who try to break the conventional barriers of music by combining musical and artistic elements in a clever and intricate manner. One such band is the London-based Breton. Consisting of Roman Rappak, Adam Ainger, Ian Patterson, Daniel McIlvenny and Ryan McClarnon, this five-piece describe themselves as a multimedia artist collective. On record, their music is a mixture of rock and experimental, with some electronic and industrial elements as was seen on 2012’s debut release, Other People’s Problems. The album (recorded at their own BretonLABS studio, which also backed up as their living space, rehearsal space and a factory) featured boundary-breaking tracks such as Edward the Confessor, Jostle and December, showcasing one of the most exciting groups to come out of London in recent times. Following the intense touring of Other People’s Problems and its intricate live show, Breton headed around Europe to record their second album, War Room Stories.

War Room Stories is an album which takes the main elements laid down on Other People’s Problems and builds on them. It’s a record which shows Breton’s ability to grow as a band, whilst also seeing them simplify their sound. Evidence of this simplification is seen on the Ibiza-lite, steel drum-infused opener, Envy. Envy’s simple melody is contrasted with electronics, piano and Roman Rappak’s layered vocals in a song which presents a new Breton. Gone is the rawness of their guitars and the industrial beats, making room instead for slick production and smart instrumentation. S4 follows, reintroducing the industrial beats and synths whilst also showcasing the first appearance of the 44-piece Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra, who appear throughout the record. Their presence is particularly heard in the pizzicato strings which accompany squidgy synths and Rappak’s interesting voice. Following track, Legs & Arms, features the orchestra more prominently on the horns section. This song has an element of eeriness to it, particularly evident in the high-pitched synths and Vocoder effects on Rappak’s wailing voice. Of course, the addition of the orchestra also adds to the eeriness, but it also gives the record a sense of bombast  that Other People’s Problems didn’t have.

Got Well Soon, which is the albums’ lead single, is next with its dark, late night arpegiating synths and dancefloor thumps. It’s nothing like Breton’s debut release, and it shows their progression from a raw group of frustrated youngsters to a rounded group of musicians making slick, smooth and polished songs. Got Well Soon is easily one of the albums’ highlights, particularly in the final outro where Rappak proclaims, “don’t get found out again”. The voiceover samples and dark piano of Closed Category give off a more jazzy sound, whilst also bringing about a moment of rest in which the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra play a more prominent role on strings. National Grid starts with speedy synth bleeps, before slowing down and building up into an intense and sharp anthem with a massive chorus. “I believe everybody has a right to surrender” is one of the most powerful lines on the record, which makes way for massively gritty synths and altered vocals. This is followed by the percussion-driven Search Party, which demonstrates yet again the dancier element to this album, whilst also encompassing some breakbeat, two-step elements. 302 Watchtowers is another slower song, with funkier industrial beats, handclaps and sparkly synths. There’s some eastern European-sounding backing vocals and use of Macedonian woodwind instruments which adds to the already-present bombast on this record. Penultimate track Brothers starts off sounding similar to a Bastille song, which chant-along vocals and piano chords. The industrial beats that were so prominent on this bands’ debut aren’t as prominent here, but when they are they’re used very well. On this record, all the instruments fit in and complement eachother, which is one of the reasons why this album really shows a progression in Breton’s music. Closing track Fifteen Minutes is another example of this, when the symphony orchestra re-joins proceedings to give the album an intense-yet-beautiful send off. It builds up over the course of the song courtesy of sprawling synths, tribal drumming and intricate guitar licks. The song climaxes with a fast-paced outro which quickly slows down to make way for the ending of a fine record.

Despite this record being extremely different to their debut album, Breton have still managed to retain the elements that made them one of the most exciting bands around. This time it’s not so much rawness that we hear, but a polished sound which sounds like a band moving forward instead of looking backwards.