The Brakes: Tale of Two Cities

By: Dennis Cook

There's a warming charm to The Brakes from the moment they fire it up. It happens at their shows, which practically leap into your arms and plant one on you, and it happens immediately on Tale of Two Cities (Hyena). Though a deceased pony I've whipped in print for years, it bears repeating in this instance: if popular radio were actually based on talent, sheer appeal and quality songwriting then The Brakes would already be massive. Of course, today's marketing driven mentality slants things far too heavily towards economic concerns, leaving art lying battered on the side of the highway. Luckily, The Brakes picked her up, giving her their coats and last cigarettes like decent lads should, and wooed this 12-pack of delights out of her.

Everything about them, from the massively appealing tunes to the solidity & flow of their playing to the butterscotch trip of lead singer Zach Djanikian's tongue, carries the precocious creativity of young Steve Winwood, Paul McCartney and others who rose to mainstream fame in the '60s without sacrificing sophistication in their music to do so. Recorded during a two-month joint residency in NYC and Philadelphia, Tale cherry picks the ripest fruit from the run, a successful gambit that shows off both their writing chops and live prowess not unlike Assembly of Dust's fabulous The Honest Hour.

Stupidly catchy track after track, it's the final trio – "Song of Imponderables," "Who Am I To Be" and "Sister Mary" – that cement how fundamentally good this band is. Quiet numbers today tend to still rely on bombastic bursts or pushy production to get their point across, but "Imponderables" embraces a potent hush, benefiting from their collective restraint, rising only as much as they need to on the chorus, which consistently gives me a shiver with it's simple, true spirit and delivery ("There were no stars to steer our course/ No bell to toll the hour"). "Who Am I To Be" is an incantation, a sect-less prayer that yearns in words, music and tone:

Please tell me something I don't know
Please, give me something that will grow
Who am I to be?
Tell me who am I to be
A distant lover or your family
Tell me who am I to be

A deep, fine soul rises on this cut, the eloquent guitars and burbling tom-toms capturing in mood what the lyrics suggest, a kind of interlocking intelligence that informs the entire record. The overlap of their efforts layers in pleasures that surface with repeat listens, so you'll be near powerless to stop at one spin as "Sister Mary" – a smoky grower in the vein of The Black Crowes "Seeing Things," slide swoon encircled with barbed wire – is given the neat sendoff, "I'll be just fine/ My world is filled with possibility/ You can go on, but I'll take my time." This line serves as a statement of purpose for The Brakes. They seem dedicated to the music far more than the cult of personality or dumb money chasing antics of many bands out there, especially one with this much potential mass appeal. Their obvious dedication to craft is a joy, and they've made an absolutely wonderful slab this time out.

JamBase | Philadelphia
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[Published on: 7/22/08]

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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} Tue 7/22/2008 06:33AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

good article, good album :)

tourfan starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 07:56AM
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Nice, DC, very nice indeed. Love these guys. On the Solar Stage on Friday - Hope their set lasts past 7 p.m., so I can catch all of AOD on the Main Stage and then catch the end of the Brakes set. Excellent review. Will look for this myself.

jesscosca starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 08:50AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

such a beautifully written review for an equally beautiful album. check it out asap if you haven't already.

mcutler508 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 11:08AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Been loving the album for months now, cant take it out of my cd player!

steiny1234 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 11:35AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

amazing album! great article for a very solid band. the brakes are what's missing these days in modern music. check out this album, and you won't be disappointed! additionally, some might say it would be a sin to miss their live shows--i'm certainly one of these people.

cfein5481 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 01:40PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Tale of Two Cities is an unbelievable album. I find myself listening to it over and over again--and liking it more and more each time! The Brakes are truly a breath of fresh air in today's music scene and I only hope more people have the opportunity to discover them and appreciate how awesome they are.

Moonwaves starstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 02:50PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

"If popular radio were actually based on talent, sheer appeal

and quality songwriting then The Brakes would already be massive."

Tale of Two Cities is an amazing album that not just myself but my whole family enjoys!!! Their lyrics are just as beautiful as their sound, and they are such a talented group on and off stage!!! You have to make it a point to check out one of their Shows...YoU won't be disappointed!

trebor3 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 03:18PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I first saw The Brakes a couple weeks back in Camden NJ at The WXPN Exponential Music Festival. Very impressed with their performance, sound and lyrics. Truly a breath of fresh air in today's music scene. I bought the CD, met the guys in the "meet and greet" tent and got my CD signed by them. Real down to earth dudes. I can't stop listening to it. It just gets better and better. Planning a trip to Bridgeport CT on Aug.1 to see them at Gathering of the Vibes Festival. Can't wait for the CD.

swedish1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/22/2008 09:29PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I love this album!! awesome review as well.. be sure to pick up a copy!!

Sas starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/23/2008 03:31AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

The Brakes are a great band. Great live show - if they come around your area, GO.

Nice review Dennis!

BiggJeff starstarstarstarstar Mon 7/28/2008 09:13PM
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I've been following the evolution of this band for several years now. I can say that through my experience, Tale of Two Cities is the culmination of years of honing a special sound that The Brakes can call their own. It's a real shame they had to whittle it down to twelve tracks. Some of the stuff left off of the CD is incredible as well. If only some influential ears could actually HEAR them... I have no doubt that they will reach lofty heights in the music industry. Take a listen to this CD and you'll be hooked too. Better yet, catch their live show wherever you can. This is one of this bands that you may be saying some day... I saw them when... And while we're at it, let's all raise a glass to Josh Sack, The Brakes late drummer, whose work will always shine on Tale of Two Cities.

headekid starstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 11:38AM
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Good Review. The Brakes have been playing some really quality shows so far this summer. Not so numerous but definately high quality. From the Kimmel Center to the XPN Festival to the performance in Gorgas Park last week, The Brakes seem so comfortable and are performing at a very high level. Every show I go to people are not expecting to hear such good music from a bunch of young musicians but they always deliver. The Takeover...coming soon!


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