A notoriously meticulous group, the trio of Thee More Shallows have taken several years to create each of their albums. Their last album More Deep Cuts showed off these details in full, with a shorter album of beautiful tracks that unveiled new things on every listen, and their follow-up Monkey Vs. Shark EP was just as solid, with several new tracks padded out with a cover and remix.
Taking about a year and a half from conception to release, Book Of Bad Breaks is by far the speediest that the group has recorded an album, and it's also the biggest stylistic leap that they've made since they first formed almost six years ago. First off, it's much more rocking than past efforts, with buzzing synths, noisy guitars, and some downright shredding sections that will have any references to slow core tossed out the window pretty quickly.
It's also the most scattershot, with string arrangements giving way to overdriven guitar blowouts, droning washes bleeding into murky feedback, and at the same time some of their most sing-along tracks they've ever written. After opening with the short "D Shallow," the release drops off into three of those songs right in a row. "Eagle Rock" opens the batch, and singer Dee Kesler croons over multiple layers of buzzing synths, barely-controlled waves of guitar feedback, and crisp drumming. "The Dutch Fist" uses some of the same musical elements (thick analogue synths juxtaposed with acoustic guitar), but ups the tension with some quick volume changes and pummeling drums.
Of the three, it's the last one of "Night At The Knight School" that is the best. Blending everything from muffled horns to filtered drums to seriously skronky keyboards, the track doesn't so much shift into choruses as explode into them as Kesler gets increasingly frantic with his vocals. The middle of the release changes things up a fair amount, as shorter "Int" (intermission, perhaps) bookend a couple of actual songs. These "Int" tracks are largely string arrangements that all sort of dissolve into dread while being highlighted with synths, and the songs within them are more of the same synth/guitar pieces that are occasionally stirring but both follow very similar structures.
The nearly seven-minute "The White Mask" comes as a welcome break towards the end of the release, as it slows the pace of the release a bit and finds the group working through their instrument changes in a more deliberate way that feels a bit more natural. By the time the noisy ending hits, it's even more powerful as the biting words from Kesler soar over the top of a glorious cacophony. Considering that the trio has never exactly created albums that are straightforward, Book Of Bad Breaks really doesn't come as a big surprise. The looseness does, however, not always flatter it, and in more places than one songs just sort of trail off and dissolve into something else without adding anything to the album itself. Whether or not it's on purpose, Book Of Bad Breaks is a bit on the scatterbrained side of things, which is definitely a change considering their past work. There's still plenty to enjoy, but it's by no means a smooth ride.