For his second full-length solo album, Merchandise's David Vassalotti goes truly solo, writing, performing, recording, and producing Broken Rope unassisted. Though the album doesn't necessarily sound like the product of one pair of hands, its lo-fi angst and literary tendencies do channel a singular voice, one that, as in the past, diverges somewhat from his band's toward something noisier, sometimes sweeter, usually more intimate, and often more incomprehensible. More than two at least quasi-instrumentals occupy the ten-track set, starting with the opener, "The Trouble with Being Born," which sautés buzzing electronics and saxophone with guitar and keys in quirky ambience before cloudy dissonance abruptly gives way to the Morrissey-esque "Lady Day." Another of the album's catchier tracks, "Ines de Castro" sings of a tragic historical figure connected to the 14th century Portuguese royal family. Vassalotti, an English and American lit major, also (per press releases) incorporates Spanish poetry and Russian folklore into the song selection, though lyrics are more often than not difficult to decipher. "Sarah Sings" is one such vocally obscured track. It features on-location, natural sound, including the vocalizations of a dog, while the next entry -- actually titled "The Dogs" -- instead offers pounding, whirring industrial distortion. Unpredictable and sonically unsettling for the most part, Broken Rope can at times be fascinating in its expressiveness. However, after a cluster of anxious, more experimental tracks, such as the over-eight-minute, form-improvising "Bolshoy Kitezh," the album mercifully closes on the pretty title song, which asks "Doesn't this feel like the end?" -- until even it is relinquished to mechanical noise and buzzing. Ultimately, the ambitious, challenging mix of meandering sound experiment and lucid pop songs is likely to try the patience of most fans of either.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson