"Perfect Games" by The Broken West
With 2007's I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, L.A. foursome The Broken West presented itself as a solid though unspectacular retro-leaning pop-rock outfit, sort of like Fountains Of Wayne minus the snark. If The Broken West had continued down a similar path for Now Or Heaven, drawing on the jangly classic rock that countless other power-pop bands have recycled for decades, what was once pleasant likely would have become a stylistic dead end. Thankfully, Now Or Heaven sounds more modern than its predecessor—if a guitar-pop record can still be described as modern—with programmed beats and synth washes subtly placed among chiming six-strings and creamy choruses. More importantly, the songwriting is better this time around, with sharp hooks that draw blood once they grab on. On the stunning "Ambuscade," the record's highlight, driving guitars and bass slip and slither beneath an airy feeling of deep melancholy only hinted at on the debut. The Broken West once worked overtime to sound sunny, but Now Or Heaven suggests it was really more of an autumnal band all along.