Frontier Psychiatrist

Love and Reason: Review of The Mad Flight, Break, Heart; Break!

Posted on: June 4, 2012

Album cover for Break, Heart; Break!

The Mad Flight: Break, Heart; Break!

The Mad Flight’s debut album Break, Heart; Break! has been in Atlanta record stores and on the web for a few weeks now, and after repeated listens, the album radiates a radical reasonable love to it. Singer Paul Cantrell—whose voice is reminiscent of a smooth, baritone version of, say, Jeff Buckley—seeks to de-throne and modernize the subject of many of his songs, who appears to be a queenly figure perched on the top of an ancient world, not yet made modern by our standards as contemporary listeners. From the get-go it enchants in a literary sense, with lyrics that are poetic and epic at once, straddling the line between the Odyssean protagonist and the siren who tries to thwart his journey home. Impeccable production and playing make the songs stand up on their own, and also as a piece, and the record becomes a genuine album—it’s got the segueways and musical evidence to back it up. The songs are at once Beatlesque and magnetic, invoking an emotional rescue that is not without its edgy qualities—there’s pure expression here, but the crafting is not unsharp and is rendered beautifully. The melodies are infectious, and the songs are, at times, spiritual, but the record isn’t just about emotion and expression; it’s a testament to what careful writing, and sharp playing and singing can bring to the musical table, a table that invokes music as diverse as The National, Magnetic Fields, and the sweet sounds of early Radiohead, all without sounding too much like anyone who’s ever done this before.

Stream: The Mad Flight, Break, Heart; Break! here

The album features a trio of Cantrell on vocals, David Fountain on guitar, and Heath Ladnier on drums. Live performances now feature Nathan Sadler, and these performances do not disappoint. This record is 11 standard-length rock songs, but each song moves directly into the next with an urgency that is compelling and lyrically prescient, as the songs careen from the beauty of the sublime to the delicate tenor-falsetto of Cantrell’s beautiful (and wide-ranging) voice. This self-produced record has garnered the band fans, too, and their performances bring out friends and those who may have just heard of them, looking to see what the buzz is about.

Lyrically, Cantrell seems to be addressing several ambiguous people, except for a couple of songs directed toward John Henderson, the Atlanta bartender and server who was tragically murdered several years ago while closing up shop. There is a tongue-in-cheek quality to many of the songs here, and there are a number of ways to read the lyrics as mirroring a reality that is perhaps not quite what the band is living with—obvious, yes, but worth saying. The songs are imaginative and epic in the sense that they invoke ghosts of reference and influence, and they create an almost dreamlike state that the real world doesn’t always engage with.

The Mad Flight

The record begins with a song called “Eden Ave.,” in which the speaker and the woman he is addressing grow younger. While this suggests going back in time, the song (and the album as a whole) seek to bring Eden to a close, suggesting that the listener eat the apple and embrace a more wizened approach to the world, without Adam and Eve’s blissful awareness of pleasure untainted by reason and knowledge. In “Eden Ave.,” Cantrell sings of “getting younger,” a sojourn into the bliss of unawareness, and yet the songs work together to create a sense of epic circularity while also adhering to high lyrical standards. Bringing Eden to a close is a way of, well, eating the apple and embracing a more wizened approach to the world, without a sort of blissful awareness of pleasure that is untainted by reason and knowledge. In the second track, “Pen Ultimatum,” there is something fishy about an Eden, begging the use of a pen to cut it down by giving a call to arms—either for or against? The tone is uncertain but seems declamatory and somewhat angered by the tempest of Eden (eerie weather). “Manifest Anapest” seems to move in the same direction, with a postmodern insistence on uncertainty, telling the person addressed that the speaker can’t afford to buy prophecy.

In a sense, the album moves toward a sort of corruption of the person addressed in the songs, and even with tongue-in-cheek lines like “raise a bottle to your health” (“Dress Gordon Nightmare”), there is a sense in which the singer wants to pull down a queenly or kingly figure. There’s a sense in which the person or persons being addressed are those who have broken the speaker—“So if I die before I wake / One last promise left to make / One less heart you’ll have to break” (“Before I Wake”)—and the speaker wants to turn the tables on this majestic personage. Hence, reason brings Eden to its close, yet there is actually a return, and the fraught relationship between the speaker and his addressee is one of a tension that plays itself out vocally and musically, in the magic that The Mad Flight makes. The album’s standout track, “Evensong,” brings us back to Eden, only it’s a little bit different this time, as Cantrell sings of a poetic marriage of heaven and hell, finally achieved, though with an edge that still bespeaks the tension between his well-placed, finely-tuned voice and the rip-roaring waterfall of sounds that the guitar creates. This tension is that between, in many ways, the spiritual and the material, which is something of an old trope but one that great art makes palpable. We have the abstract epic journey—almost interior—to dwell in, and yet the music that the band makes is strikingly fresh and visceral at times. This tension is what good music does well, and Break, Heart; Break! rewards repeated listening for this reason.

Laura Carter lives and works in Atlanta, where she is in tandem with a PhD in critical theory and poetry. She has published four chapbooks of poetry, most recently Midheaven Leo, out with Dancing Girl Press last year. Other reviews and essays have been published in The Fanzine and HTML Giant, and she continues to publish poetry regularly. Her latest project is curating a series of readings at The Music Room in Edgewood, featuring women writers reading their work.

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2 Responses to "Love and Reason: Review of The Mad Flight, Break, Heart; Break!"

Wow. Excellent critique of an outstanding album. Thanks!

Thanks a lot for your kind words.

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