Many artists seem to refuse to directly acknowledge their influences, as if another outsiders’ ability to quickly perceive an element of a preceding innovation will cheapen what is ostensibly being put forth as “new” and “unique.” While perhaps unintentional, this does seems to create a sense of shame in admitting that a particular idea or style came from somewhere beyond the performers themselves. Olympia’s Broken Water, who unabashedly wear their influences on their sleeves, are clearly indebted to the work of many great 80s and 90s alternative rock innovators. But in their brief existence as a group, they have created an amalgam of sounds that is both confoundingly original and entirely familiar.
Fans of Broken Water’s 2010 debut Whet won’t notice a change in style with the Peripheral Star EP. The group explores similar territory, sure, but not to the album’s detriment. The production remains reverb heavy, albeit slightly clearer, producing a warm and enveloping low end recalling shoegaze acts like The Swirlies. Vocals are traded between the three band members: guitarist Jon Hanna has a laconic, half-spoken vocals reminiscent of J. Mascis and Thurston Moore, while bassist Abby Ingram and drummer Kanako Wynkoop mostly provide ethereal, floating vocals as a counterpoint. Ingram and Wynkoop also take more chances on this EP, including a near-riot grrrl turn on “Stop Means Stop” and an eerie Japanese vocal backdrop to “Okane No.” But, ultimately, Hanna’s guitar playing steals the show in most of the songs. Blasts of dissonant feedback overtake the music at the perfect moments but quickly anchor themselves before nearly fading back into the murky depths of the crawling rhythm section.
While the title track features more than a passing resemblance to Whet’s “Say What’s on Your Mind” in terms of rhythmic structure and dynamics, its bass-driven melody still makes it a great introduction to the group for the uninitiated. “Kansas,” one of the best moments in the group’s live show, translates well on record, a total slow burn with a swelling melodic bottom end and a menacing guitar hanging just under Kanako’s soaring vocals. The song breezes by at just under six minutes; it could easily go on for another ten. “Heart Strings” is quite possibly the most accomplished piece the group has written yet, with a satisfying verge-of-collapse climax that could stand up to some of Unwound’s best moments.
Peripheral Star does suffer from poor sequencing choices — “Okane No” ends the EP abruptly and strangely, leaving a feeling that more should follow (note: the CD version adds the “Normal Never Happened” 7-inch to the end) — and the lyrics, which were surprisingly great when they could be discerned on Whet, are nigh-incomprehensible this time. Still, Broken Water have formed a sort of alternative Million Dollar Man using the best parts of a wide variety of great influences, which is no easy feat these days. As long as they keep releasing material as consistently interesting and remarkable as Peripheral Star, you won’t hear me calling them a cheap imitation of anything.