Maxwell Kardon / Anand Wilder

Break Line: A Musical by Anand Wilder & Maxwell Kardon

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A peculiar, occasionally mesmerizing, yet ultimately impenetrable indie rock musical, the debut album from Yeasayer co-founder Anand Wilder and multi-instrumentalist Maxwell Kardon falls stylistically somewhere between Fleet Foxes, Van Dyke Parks, and TV on the Radio, and its fever dream of a plot, which according to the press release was inspired by a 2004 jam session that found the pair "improvising lyrics about a labor conflict in a Western Pennsylvania coal town that their fathers had learned about from an old folk song taught in Quaker schools in the 1950s," is a largely ephemeral affair concerning robber barons, feisty maidens,, and hard-drinking union workers, culminating in a particularly spirited town square hanging. Wilder and Kardon enlisted a small army of guest musicians for the project, including members of Yeasayer, MGMT, Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, and Dragons of Zynith, and it boasts a refreshing and inclusive, old-fashioned '70s-style prog-pop vibe. That said, outside of Wilder's intoxicating faux-country/chamber pop gem "Wedding Day," which charmingly evokes the Kinks' excellent and largely misunderstood Muswell Hillbillies LP, and the formidable presence of Dragons of Zynith frontman Aku Orraca-Tetteh, who infuses the magnificent and soulful opener "Coal Into Diamonds" and the quieter, yet no less commanding "Fathers and Brothers" with a gravitas that most of the other tracks strain for, yet never achieve, much of Break Line remains elusive, relying too heavily on its loosely knit and oddly delivered (each song is sung by one vocalist, yet a peek into the liner notes reveals that they're taking on multiple characters) narrative. That said, it's as ambitious as it is slight, and the arrangements and performances are engaging enough in their own right to warrant more than a curious spin, especially for fans of the genre.

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