By John Adamian
4:05 PM EDT, May 15, 2013
With Estrogen Highs and Empty Flowers
May 22, BAR, 254 Crown St., New Haven, barnightclub.com
Some bands aim for crisp clarity, where the sounds are sharp, focused and distinct, and lyrics are easy to make out. Broken Water isn't one of those bands. The Olympia, Washington-based trio has a sound defined by its lovely murkiness, its abraded textures and aggressively bent tones. Broken Water's music reminds me of paintings where a squeegee has been pulled across the wet surface of a relatively realistic rendering, stretching and distorting contours, blending colors and generally melting what would have been an otherwise controlled representational image.
Guitarist and singer Jon Hanna spoke to the Advocate last week by phone as the band made its way to New Orleans from Houston. They play BAR in New Haven on May 22. The Broken Water aesthetic is one that will be familiar to students of indie rock of the '90s. The distorted guitar washes have much in common with bands like Polvo, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, bands that turned distorted, detuned guitars into instruments of solemn abstraction.
"There's a lot of chord bending," says Hanna. "And I use a really fucked-up tuning on one of my guitars."
Hanna, 30, says that his own taste in music is what comes out in the music he makes with the band. "It's the kind of music that I would like to listen to," he says, citing a fondness for the music made on labels like SST and Creation Records in the late '80s. Broken Water formed about five years ago, and they've put out two full lengths and an EP.
Broken Water's 2012 release, , surges in places, with liquid guitar squeals powered along by lumbering bass lines, restrained drumming and dead-pan singing. Elsewhere, like on "When You Said," acoustic guitar strumming morphs into electrified siren sounds and molten distortion. In many ways this music sounds like it's 20 years old. But the Pacific Northwest has its own thriving idiosyncratic, sometimes boldly anachronistic, music scene, with fierce outsiders thriving.
"The Olympia scene comes in waves; bands break up and form all the time," says Hanna.
"There's a hardcore scene, there's twee pop. There's all kinds of stuff going on in Olympia all the time. It's active and it's weird."
Active and weird could sum up an element of Broken Water's sound. The artfully saturated sounds and the hint of warpage don't happen by accident.
"The guitar tones are very intentional," says Hanna. "I've gone to some length to try to get it to where it is."
And you might find a kernel of something like pop encrusted and buried beneath the murk.
"It's not quite pop music and it's always a little off in a way," says Hanna. "I appreciate avant garde and pop as well, but I don't want to go to either of them too much. There's a pop element to our music, but I don't want it to be too straightforward, because that gets too boring, but also being weird just for the sake of being weird is kind of obnoxious."
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