Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Sin Ropas' woozy, blurry indie-pop is a puzzler

May 24, 2010

I’ve been listening to Holy Broken by Sin Ropas for a long time. I’ve kept dragging my feet on reviewing it because I keep feeling like I’m this close to really getting it. I try to pinpoint what bands are trying to accomplish on their albums and judge them on whether or not they accomplish that; but with Holy Broken, I’m no closer to figuring that out than the first time I listened to it. I don’t often say this, but I just don’t get this album.

At its core, it’s a slow, melodic pop album. It’s just covered up in a whole bunch of frills. But the problem is that if you take away the frills, the songs aren’t really songs anymore. This means that the frills are actually essential bits that just feel like frills.

“Folded Uniforms” exists primarily on a wash of guitar distortion, some muddy electronic beats, auxiliary percussion, buried synthesizers and an occasional piano bit. It constantly feels like the intro to something else. After a couple listens I got used to the fact that the sounds weren’t precursors; they were the main event. It’s a pretty song, but it doesn’t feel completed. It doesn’t feel uncomplete; the production is well-done and the tune has a beginning, middle and end. It just sounds weird to me. Other tunes have similar structures, like “X is for Christmas,” although it has a guitar line anchoring it.

The best comparison I can make to this album is an off-kilter Grandaddy. That seems like an insult, but I think the guys in Sin Ropas want this album to feel off-kilter. That’s the only explanation I can figure for an album that gives us “Nailed in Air,” which juxtaposes kitschy beats with a solid guitar-pop song and a meandering piano bit, and “Unchanged the Lock,” which I like for moments and then don’t like for others.

When they strip down, the purposes feel a bit more clear. “Stolen Stars and Light” shows that Sin Ropas can and does just write acoustic pop songs when they feel like it. So does title track “Holy Broken,” which uses the muddy beats and weird instrumentation just right. But the rest of the album leaves me scratching my head. It’s like something I would usually enjoy, but this time I just don’t. If it really is a slow-burner of an album, it’s an even slower burner than the National’s albums.

Like I said before; this feels like an off-kilter, slightly woozy Grandaddy album. Their quiet moments feel like Damien Jurado, which is wonderful. So if you’re a fan of fuzzy, woozy, blurry indie-pop and rock, this is up your alley. It has me stumped, though. Listen before you buy.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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