I have honestly never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Although he very much came to symbolize everything that’s great about being “born in the USA,” his voice always seemed too scratchy. I felt like he was always just yelling. That is what makes Moa Holmsten’s primarily electronic reworking of Springsteen so refreshing–Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm takes Springsteen’s rich lyrics and rhythms but leaves the scratchy voice behind.
Although Holmsten does utilize some of Springsteen’s well-known rhythms, the songs of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm sound almost unrecognizable to their originals. Growing up in Philadelphia, there was always a high probability that the next song on the radio would be a Springsteen song. And although I have already expressed my distaste for his voice, those catchy lyrics and rhythms at times have stopped me from turning to another station. Holmsten took everything that was great about Springsteen and added her own flair. For example, Holmsten weaves in the well-known rhythms of “Dancing In The Dark” and “Born To Run” to her otherwise unique accompaniment. Springsteen’s most circulated track, “Born In The USA,” sounds nothing like the original, in fact: it eventually falls apart and ends abruptly– leaving it to be only a minute long.
Even though Holmsten weaved the Springsteen rhythms into “Dancing In the Dark” and “Born To Run,” that doesn’t mean they sound very similar at all to their originals. “Dancing In The Dark” actually begins with a rather industrial electronic beat and continues to pulse throughout the song. As the track continues, more instruments join in with the beat along with added background vocals. “Dancing In The Dark” sounds similar to Springsteen’s in its rhythms but the industrial instrumentation makes the song darker than the original. With “Born To Run,” Holmsten took quite a different angle. Setting the foundation for a much lighter sound, ethereal ahh’s open up the track alongside organ accompaniment. The notable riff of “Born To Run” gets a heavenly makeover in this version as well, utilizing strings and a piano to replace the rock and roll instruments.
Holmsten’s voice is a much preferred replacement for Bruce Springsteen’s. In songs like the album’s opener “Highway 29,” Holmsten’s voice sounds sweet, subtle and even a bit raspy (soulful raspy, not at all in the abrasive Springsteen kind of way). In tracks like “Badlands,” Holmsten’s voice echos more of a jazzy, blue-eyed soul feel akin to Adele and the late Amy Winehouse. And finally, her voice transforms once more in “Born To Run” and “Soul Driver,” where she draws out her words, sounding eerily similar to Lorde. Holmsten has this uncanny ability to adapt her voice to the vibe of her Springsteen adaptations.
The overall vibe of Broken Arms & Broken Rhythm differs from song to song. Some tracks echo the industrial feel of “Dancing in the Dark,” while others are more light and whimsical like “Born To Run.” What truly ties the album together is how the tracks echo Springsteen while updating him to fit the times. Moa Holmsten accomplished a rather brilliant task with this album– she redeemed Bruce for me. –Krisann Janowitz
Here’s the last drop of tunes from January. On to February!
1. “Bad Blood” – Fred Thomas. This is the indie rock equivalent of an LCD Soundsystem song: deep bass groove, highly emotional lyrics in a speak/sing milieu, unexpectedly hooky melodies from unusual places. It’s basically the promise of indie rock 1979-1992 coming to fruition. Damn.
2. “Story of My Life” – Martin Sexton. Yes, this is a One Direction cover. It basically sounds like One Direction covered Martin Sexton. Yes. You need this in your life.
3. “Soul Shine” – Sam Joole. In addition to smooth singer/songwriter stuff, Joole does reggae. I don’t cover reggae, but this one is so smooth and includes such infectious horns that it stole my heart. Mad props.
4. “Bells and Buzz” – Matt and the McCues. If you were listening to early ’00s indie-pop (verses), ’90s alt-rock (chorus) and bass-heavy ’80s indie-rock (breakdown!) on three stereos at once, you’d end up with this track. It’s an unusual stew, but Matt and the McCues make it work.
5. “If Only” – Ships Have Sailed. If you’re looking for pop-rock with an artsy bent (but not too artsy, you want to sing along, right?), Ships Have Sailed is showing themselves as a solid bet. Get your head-bob and hum on with this great track.
6. “Following the Plan” – Bellwire. Noisy, jangly guitar-pop with Guided by Voices vibes and unironic “whoo-hoo-hoo!”s in it: who can ask for more in a pop song?
7. “Upside Down” – Lime Cordiale. If The Killers, MGMT and Muse all collaborated on a track, they couldn’t come up with something more towering than this.
8. “Pins” – Natalie McCool. Like a grittier Lorde, McCool is on the fast track to a lot of people knowing who she is.
9. “MAD” – Honey & the 45s. Funky, sassy, soulful, gripping: this band knows how to make that old-school soul live.
10. “Spat Out Spit” – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. Lady Lamb is endlessly fascinating in her lyricism, song construction, and arrangements. Her newest track is no disappointment on any of those fronts.
11 “Hammer and a Nail” – Vienna Ditto. This slinky, enticing, cinematic track is like soul and film noir all wrapped into one. Awesome.
12. “Paying” – Sarah Bethe Nelson. If you’re a fan of long, minimalist folk-type tunes OR singer/songwriter women OR despondent rock tunes from the ’70s OR good things, you’ll be all up in this.
13. “Safe” – Emily Ann Peterson. Raw, deep emotion expressed in a piano-and-vocals one-take, complete with hall gorgeous reverb and all.
14. “Electric” – Föllakzoid. Y’know, I’m usually not into Chilean deep groove, psychedelic, bass-heavy dance vibes, but this one sucked me in and kept me going for twelve minutes. Twice. Going on a third time.
So I’m getting caught up on MP3s too. Soon I will be back on schedule!
MP3 Drop 1: DANCE IT OUT
1. “Wear You Out” – Amerigogo. Punk-funk-party-rock with muscle, grit and old-school “we play our own damn instruments” passion. If you don’t want to dance to this, I’m not sure this blog can help you much on that front.
2. “Gold” – Half Sister. There will always be room in my heart for more girl-fronted power-pop, especially when it’s as crisp and surprisingly emotive as this. Tender is not a term given to power-pop that often, but more power to Half Sister for pulling it off.
3. “Small Pony” – Dott. Girl-fronted power-pop that features an impressive bit of drumming; if you’re on the Best Coast train, you’ll find much to love here.
4. “Get Down” – Like Clockwork. Somewhere between the Postal Service and Ke$ha lies this track and its catchy chorus. Cobra Starship? Maybe?
5. “TTYN” – SCRNS. Is Lorde on the front edge of something, or is she already causing? SCRNS has similarly minimalist electro production going on, and it’s similarly catchy and fun.
6. “Partners in Crime” – We Were Lovers. I don’t think I can ever think of rich, majestic, night-time dance-rock without invoking The Killers. So a female-fronted Killers it is, and I love it.
7. “My Song 9” – Nova Heart. Ominous, foreboding female-fronted indie-electro-rock with an excellent production job.
8. “Inhibitionist” – Starlight Girls. The line between campy horror and surf-rock has never been harder to find. Fun all around, whatever you think the sound is.
9. “Earthquake” – Passafire. The only reggae I know much about is Matisyahu, but Passafire caught my attention with this track: smooth vocals, great chorus, a bit of tough edge to the guitar.
10. “Moonlight” – Message to Bears. A hypnotizing, gently rolling tune that inhabits the space between artsy R&B and atmospheric indie-folk.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.