Crooked Fingers – Breaks In the Armor

January 01, 1970



To claw a two-decade-long living from the meager margins of
indie rock-music arguably already on the margin-takes a person of contradictory
strengths and frailties: stubbornness, pride, resignation, perseverance, self-awareness
and self-delusion. These chinks in the psychic armor have always stoked the
songwriting fires of Eric Bachmann, the imposing (6-foot-6, 240-pounds’ worth
of imposing) tunesmith behind decade-old Crooked Fingers. Breaks In the Armor is Bachman’s sixth, and arguably best, Fingers’
full-length since his stint in front of nineties indie rockers Archers of Loaf.
The 11 songs here read like a downcast but ultimately redemptive catalog of struggle-with life and its
oft-unrequited promise, yes, but life as an unrequited musician, too.


Business as usual for Bachmann, you might think. But after
the oft-bloated, un-Bachmann-like arrangements of 2009’s self-released ,Forfeit/Fortune, and his
near-retirement from the music business afterward, Breaks in the Armor, is the scaled-back and considered work of an
artist acknowledging that the struggle itself defines who he is and what he’s
supposed to sound like. You can hear that push-and-pull during the swirling emotional
chaos and escalating guitar textures of “Typhoon” (written during the 2009 typhoon
Morakot in Taiwan, where Bachmann was teaching English); in the martial tempo of
“Bad Blood,” which frog-marches the narrator to a fortune teller for the
unpleasant news that all will not be well; and in the funereal tempo and
hammer-hewn percussion of “War Horses,” through which an e-Bow winds like vines
over an old headstone.


The bleakness borders on corrosive at times, but throughout
the album Liz Durrett-whose 2009 record, Outside
Our Gates
, Bachmann produced-shadows with leavening harmonies the singer’s
vocal desperation. And by the end of Breaks you sense that Bachmann’s come to terms with his lot, especially on the LP’s
most defiant track, “She Tows the Line.” Insistent keys and guitar build to an
epic Anglo-flavored (like a Pogues/Proclaimers mash-up) musical rejoinder to the
song’s existential “we never came here at all” chorus. It feels like a
declaration of purpose instead, made all the stronger for having passed through
the crucible of Bachmann’s doubts, through the armor breaks, and straight
into-and from-the heart.


Tows the Line,” “Bad Blood” JOHN SCHACHT

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