Me and Crooked Fingers go back a ways, but probably not far enough. I first heard ‘Big Darkness’, off Red Devil Dawn, driving home late one night about 4 years ago. I ended up really liking that record, and it’s 2008 follow-up, Dignity and Shame. (Unbeknownst to me that Eric Bachmann also headed up the quite popular Archers of Loaf for most of the 1990s. You learn something new every day!)
In any case, Bachmann’s present project, Crooked Fingers, continues to become more and more refined. Breaks in the Armor is probably the group’s most accessible output to date, as is evidenced by approachable tracks such at ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Bad Blood‘.
In spite of effortlessly getting away with over-the-top lyrics, such as the opening,
Went to see my fortune teller
To see which way the winds were blowin’
She said you’ll probably get the cancer
She said you’ll surely die alone
I don’t really think of ‘Bad Blood’ as a depressing or sad song. It’s sound would seem at home as the live accompaniment to a Friday night at some south-central dive bar, thought the song has considerably more heart that most of that fare.
The trailing echoes at the end of ‘Bad Blood’ are a segue into ‘The Hatchet’, a subdued, bleak number whose texture evokes a recording covered in dust, meant to be forgotten. It’s just long enough to kinda give you the chills, but short enough not to belabor the point. It acts as a perfect counterpoint to ‘The Counterfeiter’, a surprisingly bounding track about deception of the heart.
And of course, we never make it quite through a Crooked Fingers record without a song like ‘Heavy Hours’, which is the stripped down no-frills quiet-time Eric-is-going-to-make-you-sad song. If you’re into that, it’s here. If not, it doesn’t dominate the album.
My favorite point of the album is the three song run that begins with ‘Went to the City’. Heavy drums and a piano accompaniment that keeps pace give Bachmann’s vocals a runway from which they really soar. The production of the scrambled radio sounds containing vitriolic outbursts sounded to my ear (for some reason) an homage to R.E.M.. After this, we drop the volume down a notch to ‘Your Apocalypse’, which I can only describe as ‘urgent’, but in the best way.
Finally we arrive at ‘War Horses‘ (not to be confused with the tear-jerker film War Horse in theaters this holiday season). The song begins as a dirge-like march composed of minimal instrumentation. Slowly though, sounds are added, and the hard shell of the song melts a bit. Closer to its interior as the song peaks, Bachmann shouts,
Bracing for all hell
For their salvo to hammed down
Bad breaks in the armor
Far too weak now to turn around
The militaristic imagery of the song, and smashing percussive strikes to match, make the song feel really grandiose and epic, even with it’s short run-time.
Breaks in the Armor is a really consistently good listening experience. If you’ve liked even one or two Crooked Fingers tracks in the past, this album is sure to please. It’s pensive and thoughtful in many places, but still rocks where it needs to.