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In the spring of 2010, experimental group Yeasayer broke ground with the psychedelic and catchy Odd Blood. From the sugar-pop instrumentals and vocals tinged with '80s veneer, one would have never guessed that guitarist and supporting vocalist Anand Wilder had a much bolder project on the back burner. Along with pianist Maxwell Kardon, Wilder was penning a folk opera, inspired by the musical textures of the '60s and '70s and foot-stomping Quaker folk ballads. Fast forward a little over four years and Break Line is just now seeing the light of day.



While the guys behind Yeasayer were making waves with dancehall favourites like 'O.N.E.', Anais Mitchell released one of the decade's strongest albums with Hadestown. The album, a gritty romantic folk opera swelled with raw emotion which was lent plenty of gravitas by an ensemble of Mitchell's extremely talented indie compatriots. Modern legends like Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco masterfully lent their voices to a lively cast of characters plucked from Greek mythology and dropped into Mitchell's very own jazzy Quacker magnum opus.





While it's unfair to compare Break Line to what could be the best folk album of the decade, it's hard not to look at the tawdry melodies and ham-fisted lyrics and long for the subtle magic of Hadestown. Here too, Wilder has brought together a hodgepodge of indie celebrity cameos (including Kishi Bashi, MGMT's James Richardson, and Dirty Projector's Haley Dekle) in order to bring his characters to life, but whereas DiFranco and Vernon played their roles in earnest, the vocal cast of Break Line struggle to fabricate anything substantial from Wilder and Kardon's material.





For a would-be musical, it's hard to find any sort of cohesive plot between the tracks. There's something about a wedding, greed, and a coal mine, but amidst the bloated jangle of banjos and harmonies it's extremely tiring to follow. And though the voices on the recording are given character names, it's extremely difficult to think of them as anything apart from the celebrity musicians behind them.





'Hold You Tight', a lament-filled track helmed by the gorgeous and syrup sweet vocals of Haley Dekle, is the closest the album ever comes to emotional brilliance. Even then, there's a lack of maturity to the lyrics that calls to mind the more youthful recordings of pop-punk indie acts rather than a seasoned songwriter. This, coupled with the fact that Dekle is simply playing a character penned for her, holds the track back from carrying any substantial depth or weight.



That's not to say there aren't highlights. 'Wedding Day', a jangling folk anthem abandons the pretentious melodrama that nails the vibe of the best folk musical numbers from the original age of corduroy bellbottoms and flower crowns. The instrumentals and vocals here shimmer and, for a moment, everyone involved with the record seems like they're having fun, instead of overwrought with cheesy Broadway angst as in the sheepishly rambling 'Better to Die'.


Gems like 'Wedding Day' and 'Hold You Tight', as well as admirable attempts by the vocal cast do little to change the fact that Break Line is the poor man's Hadestown. Perhaps something is lost in translation between musical and standalone record, but this is one musical soundtrack that hopefully won't be spinning in coffee shops and soccer mom vans anytime soon.



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