Dawn Chorus #9: Broken Chanter – Broken Chanter

Dawn Chorus #9: Broken Chanter – Broken Chanter

In our house Thursday is the hardest day…everyone is tired but the weekend still feels light years away, making it a slow-starting, introspective type of morning. The self-titled debut album from Broken Chanter is perfect for playing in solidarity before lifting us from our mire. 

Broken Chanter album coverArtist: Broken Chanter
Album: Broken Chanter
Label: Last Night From Glasgow / Olive Grove Records
Year of release: 2019
Genre: Post-rock, alt-pop

The very worst thing about the Broken Chanter record – the debut solo excursion for Scottish singer-songwriter David MacGregor – is that you absolutely cannot play it in the background and get on with your life. This is a record which should not be relegated to incidental music behind whatever else you have to be getting on with, but rather deserves (although politely it does not forcefully demand) your full attention as it successfully distracts and draws you in with mature yet vital melancholic pop vibes. Yes, give yourself to it and you’re in for great reward.

Opening with ‘Nineteen Ninety-Eight’ across nearly six minutes recordings of trains and industrial sounds, mix with instrumentation both mimicking and adding depth. Cinematic in quality, this first statement on the album is very much of the transformative nature of journeys, and prepares you for the miles you will travel with these songs without ever moving a physical step. Pensive at first, when the beats break in it is with the heartbeat booms of trains on tracks, violin strobing through so you are caught between your thoughts and your view. As if left on a lonely platform, the track travels on without you eventually, the beats receding into the distance and you’re alone again in the wilds of your life.

This landscape is hinted at throughout the album – field recordings creeping in around the edges of the tracks to remind you this isn’t a clinical studio album but one which seems to have sprung forth organically around the days of living, from the places MacGregor has been, the things he’s come to know with age but the feelings he hasn’t yet lost. Single ‘Should We Be Dancing?’ perfectly captures the wisdom in the songwriting, understated romance in the earthy magic of a low-key but unexpectedly brilliant date – this one should be on wedding playlists up and down the land with more warmth and kindness to it than any of the usual cliched choices.

This is the finest of alt-pop romance, but the album doesn’t satisfy itself with one lifted moment – it comes at you again with ‘Don’t Move to Denmark’, the lilting vocal mirrored again by strings, as the guitar keeps time. Lyrically this is full of the duality of mid-life: old enough to know what you want, enough years lived to know failure is a possibility. It’s the hope and the fear of everything rolled into one.

MacGregor’s time with Kid Canaveral appears in flashes throughout the album, more than anything though this feels like an album which is possible because of the life already lived but made by the space which has been given in creating it. It can be picked apart, broken down and elements carefully catalogued and assigned, but it is so much greater when listened to as a whole.

The alt-pop vibes grow by the time we get to ‘Beside Ourselves’ – an indie dance floor anthem in waiting, to be sung with heads tipped back and arms around your friends as you sing out “I was your last number dialled / I could have sworn that you smiled”. The electronic crunch and buzz around clipped beats braces against the roll of the accent in the warm vocal, the nervous glance in the words. Another sparkling melancholic alt-pop gem generously served up with a side of hope.

With solid songwriting and honest experience at the foundation of this record, romance in every line and pragmatism through every note, you know you’ve found something really special to which you will return over the years.

An extra note here: what a label Last Night From Glasgow is, and what a year they are having. If you haven’t already checked out their roster and their not-for-profit membership-funded approach then please do.

Find Broken Chanter:

Dawn Chorus is a week day feature sharing an album to listen to on your morning commute, the school run, or at other times with the intention of surfacing classics you might not have given time to yet, indulging in old favourites, and helping you discover the best of new releases. If you’d like to suggest an album for the feature, or contribute a guest write up on an album you think more people should hear, get in touch

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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