Welcome To Pittsburgh #1: Broughton’s Rules – “Anechoic Horizon”

In this fine, first edition of Welcome To Pittsburgh, a new, somewhat-irregular Popdose column dictating the independent musical pulse of the Rust Belt’s cultural capital, we find ourselves saddled with a quirky little record bearing an interesting lineage and a sense of composition writ large.

The record in question? Broughton’s Rules’ Anechoic Horizon. Released by heavy hitters Relapse Records back in November, this lush post-rock nugget sits somewhere near the nowhere-near-intersecting intersection of Morricone and drone-metal. Think Isis meets Mogwai – or Earth by way on American Don-era Don Caballero. The Don Cab references are appropriate as, this being Pittsburgh and, better yet, this being a Pittsburgh post-rock band, Broughton’s Rules boasts some Don Cab credentials. (No, no, no. Che and Williams mend no fences and make no appearances.)

What’s impressive for Caballero/Rules guitarists Jeff Ellsworth and Gene Doyle, however, is how much they make this sound wholey (Wholely’s?!) different from, say, Punkgasm, the most recent Don Cab studio record proper. Anechoic Horizon is densely packaged, sometimes intricate stuff, but it lacks the math-iness of Don Caballero and gives over some of the calc-minded groove (though a huge part of that is octopus-armed Damon Che) for something less space- and time-signature-conscious. Nowhere is this more evident on Broughton Rules’ new record than on the somber, droning title track, a 12-minute gem where subtly recorded feedback drips off branches of notes in the background as another guitar plugs resolutely in the fore. The eBow soars. The whole song shakes in the winter cold and practically quivers, separated by an occasional blast of noise. Enchanting stuff.

On “The Fields of None,” the boys seem to be mining the same murky blues-rock mythos that Louisville’s King’s Daughters & Sons tapped on If Then Not When in 2011 – hitting a kind of morose but stripped down strut and swagger without irony but cutting short the proceedings before they become too gratuitous or self-aware – and the breakdowns/meltdowns in “Insanity Dance,” again, note the shades of Isis or Russian Circles, bear repeating. (As does the short, oddly out-of-place acoustic rumination “New Weather.” It doesn’t fit but I like it.)

On tracks like “Shadows and Light,” though, the record’s real driving statement becomes clear: what happens when you set a simple ascending guitar line or a dense, distorted chord against a carefully composed background? It’s here where the attention to precision and composition pays off and you can tell the band is paying attention to dotting its Is and crossing its Ts. Well, let’s just say that when the band continues firing (the bass growl and tom roll behind the almost-surf phrasings of “Reversers”), it comes together and it all works. Elsewhere, especially when the drums fall out, though, it feels like the antithesis of theatrical. Wait, how can you register the opposite of a punch to the gut?

The band closes Anechoic Horizon not without an echo but with a straight shot, the post-rock ups and downs of “Umbra,” a class move. It’s far from risky and, after walking the ledge with textural experiments like “Insanity Dance” and the title track, it’s even a little safe. But it’s not retreat. It’s almost comforting, a reprise, a second thought. Maybe that’s the thesis: descended from madmen, these rule-tracers aren’t pushing anyone off any bridges.

Hey, Pittsburgh! E-mail me: justinvellucci AT gmail DOT com. – Popdose, Feb. 19, 2015

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