The ominous chime of church bells looms over “Enter,” the opening cut in Populuxe’s new concept album Beauty in the Broken Place, before giving way to an equally haunting organ melody that will trigger the rollicking guitar sway of “Green Light Morning (Waiting for a Sign),” the first genuine song on the record. A gorgeous vocal harmony is suddenly interrupted by the self-explanatory “The Low Hum,” which paves a bone-chilling path for the soulful “Little Lambs:Regular Guys” with startling tension. This tension returns to the fold in “The Gathering Storm” and staggering “Marchers,” and ultimately becomes a staple element in this eclectic tribute to the vicious Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.

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Broken rhythm and somber melodies intertwine in the pained “Walk in the Sun” before scattering into the breezy grooves of “Leaves on the Ground,” one of the warmer tracks on the first half of Beauty in the Broken Place. The guitar tones in this song are undisputedly divine, and the relationship that they form with the lead vocal creates a harmony richer than most any I’ve heard in the last year. The title track introduces a bit of consistency into the beat and segues us into the crushing acoustic number “It’s Happening Again” like nothing else could, and at this point the album starts to feel more like a Tony-winning musical than just a typical indie record.

“Nothing Changes (Same Old Sun)” and “We Told You” are about as far away from each other on the aesthetical scale as possible, but they flow into one another really well here. One of the best features in Beauty in the Broken Place is its dramatic fluidity, which holds our focus even in instrumental breaks between the progressive anthems that are tucked into the LP. You don’t have to love concept albums to dig the new Populuxe record, but those who do will find it to be all the more of a gem.

A funky swing takes charge of the harmonies in “Where Did I Go Wrong” before handing us over to the conventional stomp of “The Man on the Scene,” but as charismatic as these two slightly retro rockers are, they just can’t compete with the unfiltered sonic intensity of the psychedelic-tinged “Stand.” Along with “Hat of Rain,” “Stand” is probably the most physical track here, and it definitely makes the transition into the foreboding conclusion of Beauty in the Broken Place all the easier.

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“The Crow’s Nest (Marcher’s Return)” reprises a familiar beat from earlier on in the album to set the stage for a cerebral conclusion in “The Sunsets in The West” and “Exit,” the latter of which might not have been artistically necessary but makes the record feel robust and larger than life nonetheless. There are some LPs that you just have to hear for yourself to truly understand, appreciate and decipher, and Populuxe’s Beauty in the Broken Place is undeniably one of them. This is an involved, highbrow listen that requires the full attention of its audience, but the narrative that imparts to listeners is perhaps even more significant than the engrossing harmonies it uses to communicate it. The lesson I took away? Respect life.

Michael Rand

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