Following hot on the heels of its predecessor Part 2, Breaking State shows Brix and the Extricated staying true to their post-punk roots, while expanding their songcraft into new and surprising areas.
With no fewer than four Fall alumni in their five-piece line-up – including frontwoman Brix Smith Start – the band will forever be inextricably linked with the late Mark E, but sensibly, their music seems to be moving ever further away from his influence.
While it’s been intriguing to see them tackle Fall classics like Hotel Bloedel, Cruiser’s Creek and US ’80s ’90s in live sets, the songs are not always best suited to Brix’s register.
Now, having gigged incessantly over the past year, they’re fast carving out a style and identity of their own – albeit tinged with infusions of New Wave and psychedelia.
Blondie are an obvious touchstone, along with Buzzcocks and ’80s girl group/Velvets revivalists The Primitives, but this band of veteran musicians are more than the sum of their influences.
Drawing from the twin guitar attack of Jason Brown (Parent) and Steve Trafford – much heralded for his work on late-period Fall treasure Fall Heads Roll – Breaking State is for the most part a collision of contrasting styles.
Songs like H.C, Dog Face and Going Strong all blend aggressive punk verses with big, bold, shiny pop choruses.
Fast, angry, mangled and distorted guitars, often give way to pristine, shimmering arpeggios, like California sunshine breaking through leaden Lancastrian skies.
Similarly, Brix Smith Start’s vocals morph from vicious and bratty to sweet, earnest and entreating – it’s a jarring, but highly effective technique.
Drummer Paul Hanley also exhibits chameleon-like tendencies; pounding his kit to within an inch of its life at one moment, softly brushing his cymbals the next.
Brother Steve Hanley‘s bass is unmistakable, more like a voice than an instrument at times, it dominates proceedings on songs like Heavy Crown and album-opener Alaska.
Often it’s the only instrument you hear in the mix – the other musicians giving way to its punishing industrial throb.
Some songs are straight-up pure punkers, the sex pest-bating Sleazebag, for example, reveals Brix at her most belligerent, scowling: ‘May you wither in the dust/May you choke upon your lust’.
Lead track Prime Numbers, meanwhile is the nearest they get to an early Fall-style dirty garage riff.
The two most ambitious songs are sequenced side by side in the centre of the album and hint at a possible future direction for the band.
Latin-flavoured American Skies is a revelation, staccato rhythms and marching drums, opening up to lovely strings, courtesy of arranger Sarah Brandwood-Spencer.
With a wild, juddering change of mood towards the end and some of Brix’s most self-reflective lyrics, it’s a startling, significant piece of work.
Vanity is equally impressive. A strange, unnerving, southern gothic folk song, with dark themes, it wouldn’t be out of place on a PJ Harvey or Nick Cave album.
Album closer Unrecognisable, on the other hand, is simply that.
A big, wacky, fully orchestrated Hollywood show tune number – it vaguely reminded me of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.
Provocative and eccentric, it’s a glittering end to a thoroughly entertaining album from a rapidly developing band.
If you thought Brix and the Extricated were nowt but a glorified Fall tribute band, well think again.
- Breaking State is out on October 26 on Grit Over Glamour Records – pre-order via Piccadilly Records here. The band embark on a UK tour from October 25.
- For more information about Brix and the Extricated visit their Facebook and Twitter pages.