Sin Ropas – Holy Broken

January 01, 1970

(Shrug Records)



You could probably never really say Sin Ropas has made a
happy album and be taken seriously, but there is a tangible sense of joy in
music-making, and renewal in general, coursing through the band’s first record
in five years. The previous recording from the married duo of Tim Hurley and
Danni Iosello, 2005’s apocalyptic Fire
– an album that chronicled calamity and was recorded in the band’s North Carolina mountain home of Marshall
as a century flood washed parts of the town downriver – received only a belated
release on vinyl and undeservedly passed by unnoticed. That record’s dark
textures were haunting, and no doubt draining; a hiatus seemed a preordained
by-product of rooting around in the depths of human despair.


But Holy Broken feels like a re-set,
though all the usual Sin Ropas strengths are present and accounted for: the
hypnotic dirges and sinister, sinewy rockers; relentless guitar layers and
shuffling, shambolic percussion; Hurley’s fever-stricken narratives and weary
falsetto, and Iosello’s shadowy harmonies. An opening one-two punch of the
surging “Fever You Fake” and sinuous processional “Folded Uniforms” encapsulate
everything that makes Sin Ropas’ music so siren-like; the former grounds
Hurley’s roiling guitars and solo skronk with a rollicking piano line, while
the latter’s slinky barre chords are accented with distant synth hums, processed
guitar leads, and keyboards whose circular swirls are pleasantly dizzying, like
twirling yourself around till the horizon bends. The title track’s whispered
narrative and opiate-dream tempo celebrates the flaws that make beauty beautiful,
and the dreamy lullaby “Stolen Stars and Light,” with its scratchy fiddle and
stop-time pace, reflects its existential question/chorus, “what good is
stealing light from another star?” “X Is for Christmas” is one of the band’s
finest songs, a holiday dirge first performed several years ago during a
Euro-tour VPRO broadcast. It’s recast here with wheezing harmonium into a
plangent wintry hymnal. There are some twists here, too, that point to renewed
inspiration — paradoxically inspired by old friends and music. To celebrate
Sub Pop’s reissue of Bunny Gets Paid last year, Hurley’s former band Red Red Meat reunited for a few dates, while
Iosello got her North Carolina
trio Pure back together for Merge Record’s 20th Anniversary party
later that summer. The former certainly informs “Unchanged The Lock,” which has
the same chugging Stones vibe that characterized mid-era RRM, while “Plastic
Furs” adds RRM thrum to Sin Ropas’ own Trickboxes
on the Pony Line
-style urgency. 


Hurley and Iosello recorded these eight songs in two months
in the basement studio of their isolated log cabin, and the songs have a
ramshackle feel that accentuates how they were made, often using Hurley’s
cobbled-together instruments: a fretless banjo made from cookie tin; a
two-stringed hurdy gurdy made from a church pipe organ; a thumb piano built out
of a dresser drawer. But whether they’re homemade or processed products of the
electronic age, the songs are still informed by the blues and folk traditions
that have always resided at the core of the RRM/Califone/Sin Ropas universe,
and that’s why they feel as timeless as the mountains themselves. Holy Broken deserves a far better fate
than its predecessor, but whether it passes again largely unnoticed or lights
the world afire, you sense that Hurley and Iosello will still be in their log
cabin basement making this beautifully broken music either way.


“X Is for Christmas” “The Fever You Fake” “Stolen Stars and


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