I remember the first time I heard Sinai Vessel. It was around four years ago and their sophomore EP profanity had just come out. I was immediately captivated the band’s raucous indie rock – sort of like a more upbeat and aggressive Pedro the Lion. Songs like “Cuckold” and “Flannery” carried the energy and raw emotion of songs by scene favorites like Taking Back Sunday or The Weakerthans. I knew the band had a phenomenal full-length in them, and I knew they going to blow up with its release. But that full-length didn’t come, and I found new bands who gave me similar feelings. I revisited profanity now and then, but mostly when I thought about Sinai Vessel it was to wonder what could’ve been. Then, all of a sudden, I didn’t have to wonder anymore – Sinai Vessel signed to Tiny Engines, one of my favorite active labels, and announced that long-awaited full-length.
I had a lot of expectations for Brokenlegged, not only because of the promise shown on profanity, but because of the amount of time between releases. That also made me nervous. Maybe the band had lost something in those long four years. However, by the end of my first listen of the record, I found those fears were totally unfounded. It is absolutely the album I had hoped the band could deliver.
Now, if I were to say it sounds like the natural follow-up to that release I hope no one would take that to mean this album is lazy. Far from it – the band even re-recorded the entire thing after their first take didn’t live up to their expectation, and that kind of dedication shows throughout the album. But Brokenlegged doesn’t redefine Sinai Vessel’s style so much as it refines it, stretching it in new directions. Perhaps the best lesson they learned in the four years is how to restrain themselves, specifically in regards to Caleb Cordes’s singing. On profanity, he often sounded volatile – he broke into shouts in nearly every song, frequently unpredictably, in the middles of verses. He limits himself to only a couple occasions on Brokenlegged, all of which feel particularly earned. It makes those moments hold more weight and catharsis.
The band achieves catharsis elsewhere on the album by moving in the opposite direction, like in the strings that pop up in the bridge of “Ramekin.” They float just below Cordes’s falsetto and punctuate every lyric, adding even more poignancy to one of the most delicate sections of the album. Or take the haunting “Died on My Birthday,” an acoustic ballad which calls to mind indie rock heavyweights Death Cab for Cutie. I’ve found that they’re one of the few bands who can make such sparse songs sound at the same time heart-wrenching and terribly foreboding, and with “Birthday” it looks like Sinai Vessel might be on their way to joining Death Cab.
And if they keep releasing albums like this, they’ll be joining Death Cab as one of the best in the genre. It’s true that it’s probably too early to be making assumptions like that, but it’s also true that Brokenlegged is one of the most impressive debut LPs in any genre in recent memory. Like profanity, it carries that unshakeable sense of passion and energy that makes every note feel necessary, every word feel earnest, every voice crack perfect. Perhaps there’s no better example of that than “Down with the Hull.” It leans more to the rock side of the indie rock spectrum, it seems to just constantly build from its immediately-memorable chorus to the song’s climactic ending. As the song collapses around him, Cordes sings the song’s final line, “on a ship full of things that float, you would go down with the hull,” and you can almost already hear the crowds screaming the words back to him.
I guess all of this was a long-winded way of saying Brokenlegged lives up to all the expectations I could’ve placed on it. It gives me the same feelings I got when I first heard the debuts of bands who would go on to put out some of my favorite albums. And while I don’t know for sure if Sinai Vessel will ever put out an album like Transatlanticism, Where You Want to Be, or Left and Leaving, I think they have it in them. But even if they don’t, I’ll always have Brokenlegged, and that’s more than I could’ve asked for.