New Zealand duo Broods are back with ‘Free’, the first release since their debut album Evergreen. Returning with producer Joel Little, siblings Caleb and Georgia Nott have taken some large steps forward, evolving their minimalist pop into a sound a little more complicated and darker.
Underscored by glitchy, menacing synths, ‘Free’ is a welcome infusion of colour and urgency into the delicately arranged world of Broods. Centring around Georgia Nott’s pre-chorus catch-cry of “I’d lose everything so I can sing/Hallelujah, I’m free”, the track retains the familiar layered choruses and spacious vocal echoes that Broods made their own on Evergreen but adds in some new tricks that show a pleasing willingness to take chances.
The progression comes in many shapes. Evergreen was an album thematically rooted in messy romance and reflective endings, but ‘Free’ starts the other way around. Aspiring for a new beginning, ‘Free’ looks towards the future and dares to push forward. The song still sings of longing and discontent at times, but it is exciting to hear the band move towards new territory both thematically and sonically.
One of the more refreshing elements of ‘Free’ is injection of emotion and urgency.Evergreen was often a monochromatic two-tone album, drowning either in muted despondence or insistent stomping ballads. ‘Free’ has new jabs of colour, with harder kicking drums and tribalistic backing vocals underscoring the track. While the duo’s layered vocals still sound sleek and a little detached, Georgia Nott sings solo on the verses and is effective at elevating her vocals to give her tone a sense of purpose and direction to match the pulsating production.
That being said, there’s still room for Broods to grow. Their songwriting remains underdeveloped, failing to advance much of a story or posit any emotional complexity throughout lyrics. That shortcoming especially stings given how talented they are at creating mood in their songs. It was best shown on the stirring post-breakup ode ‘Never Gonna Change’ which captures the fuzzed hungover memories of the dejected dumped in denial, and ‘Free’ is another clean hit. This time around, Broods constructed a track which emits the sense of yearning suggested by the title, but its also built adjacent to despondent industrial production. It intelligently establishes the narrative as one about urgency and escapism, but keeps the mood somber and grounded. The protagonist may be promise “I’d lose everything so I can sing/Hallelujah, I’m free” but the song never gives the listener the triumph of hearing the protagonist inch towards that freedom. The desire for freedom is effectively established but coyly the song refuses to give the payoff of finding out whether that freedom ever comes.
While a solid emotional song, the song does leave one with the sense that Broods have another gear yet to be reached. The band’s vocals are distinct and easy on the ears, but it often rolls through a song with unwavering indifference. This can work really well on songs like ‘Bridges’, in which Nott effectively portrayed the faux detachment one feigns after a brutal breakup. In sounding disinterested with slight inflections of tenderness, ‘Bridges’ turned a clever track into a memorably sad song that captured the state of many post-breakup that are eager to move on.
Unfortunately what made ‘Bridges’ threatens to break ‘Free’, as Nott’s attempts to sell desperation at times falls flat. The backing vocals may work itself into a chanted fervour, the song’s signature cry of “”Hallelujah, I’m free” doesn’t sound triumphant or long-awaited. Rather, it’s just another line to build into the chorus.
On the whole, this release is exactly what Broods should be doing. They produced a solid debut album, but have continued to develop their sound and have returned for album #2 with something very fresh that retains enough from Evergreen to stay consistent. As with any experiment, not everything on ‘Free’ hits the mark and some weak spots from the first album linger, but there’s improvement and effort across the board. They may not be there yet, but Broods are well on the road to creating some brilliant music. In the meantime, they remain enjoyable and interesting with steps forward on ‘Free’.