Review Summary: The beauty in this album lies in the transcendent feeling of everything being in place, and this album is a quiet gem of an album that retains a self-awareness that never oversteps boundaries of what 'fits.'
It’s not as if introspective, clever indie lyricism is a new phenomena; oh the contrary. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes has it down to a science and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats has the wistful, brutally honest biographical account thing down as well. But In Deference to a Broken Back, a quaint, lovely little record, does the literate, autobiographical thing as well as anyone and in itself offers charm and a sticking sense of family ties and quiet, restrained beauty.
On the second track, The East Coast, ‘So whats the word/are you coming home for easter/I haven’t heard/since the last I spoke to mother’ is sung in a charming, strained voice that breaks into a quiet falsetto: it’s a kind of testament to the album; a quiet little album with a quiet little energy. In the background of this all, little clangs of a xylophone are heard, and the quiet swoops of a violin embrace the quiet beauty of the song, with the underlying drums and whistles driving home the concept of the movement and progression of family; “The sun is setting on the bay on the bay and the wedding,” is sung. “It’s a lovely, lovely, ceremony.” Even in this layered, harmonic break, the littleness of everything is present, and that’s what makes this record great.
This is the beauty found in the the album,a quiet, self aware beauty that retains a careful sense of littleness retained even in the explosions that come in the track “Acceptable Loss”, a track with drum fills and a swaying kind of circus-y feel with harmonies that sort of drift along to the movement of the song, and explode every so often into harmony and the sounds of pianos, like even in the crescendos the feeling of this quiet life is present, the quaintness of family of life is a force itself.
In the fast paced “A Conversation About Cancer,” a face paced romp with jovial harmonies driving the song with the exuberant falsetto of Jon Sunde, this mentioned littleness is present; at no point does the band overstep the boundaries of their sound. It is illustrated that they are not a band searching for a sound but a band that knows and does not step outside of character. About halfway through A Conversation About Cancer, the tone changes, with a crescendo of constrained screaming “Disease stripped the flesh from my bone/ against the original intention” as if it is realizing a kind of reality, only to jump back into the romp, but now bringing forth a sense of something sinister.The best part is that this transition is completely tangible and in character with the mood of the band. That’s the glory of this album. Everything is in place, every song, every lyric, every transition.
There is no track on this album that differs from this atmosphere, and even in “The Daredevil Christopher Wright,” a song that moves from the introspective nature of the previous songs and into the narrative account of Christopher Wright, the famous aviator, the aformentioned little beauty is present. “Don’t you know everyone half hopes/ that they’ll see him die tonight/that’s the life of Christopher Wright.” So even in melancholy nature of the songs, this hopeful sort of beauty remains, this self constrained awareness is transcendent of the entire album and over-arches it all.