Broken Into Better ShapeNettwerk Records
By Cole Faulkner
Good Old War struck gold early in their career with the indie-rock hit, “Coney Island.” The breezy tune became a lasting staple for those in the acoustic-pop scene, although Good Old War remained largely under the radar, content with their humble home on Sargent House Records for two more releases. Now on their fourth full length, Broken Into Better Shape, the band has teamed up with Nettwerk Records, mirroring their label departure with their biggest sonic shift to date.
As is clear from the get go, Good Old War has entered an ambitious new stage of artist development. Broken Into Better Shape depicts a band successfully traversing a major stylistic crossroads without alienating the already loyal fanbase that has amassed from Good Old War’s feverous touring history. Rest assured, Good Old War’s strummy, crisp acoustic nature remains every bit as intact as their earlier work, but with the addition of several glowing new layers. As quickly becomes clear, the band doesn’t hold back on opener “Tell Me What You Want From Me.” All of the acoustic harmonies, handclap-propelled percussion and Keith Goodwin’s unmistakably airy vocals remain the core of the experience (think Human Highway). But it’s the added layer of production that really defines Broken Into Better Shape. Subtle vocal effects coupled with minor electronic and pedal work all slowly swells into one of the catchiest displays of Good Old War’s career. In fact, the band has always been a case of less is more, and the philosophy transfers well to the tapestry of their expanding mosaic.
Other notable standouts flourish from the record’s revisionist mandate. For example, “Fly Away” introduces a big, baritone hum that sweeps under light melody in the same vein as Electric Owls, whereas “Never Gonna See Me Cry” employs understated flourishes in complement of heavy acoustic strums. Meanwhile, the pitter-patter pace of “Broken Record” further expands upon a legacy of overlapping fore and background vocal interplay, but in a much more direct approach. It’s the same Good Old War you’ve come to know and love, but with lovingly crafted accents shining brightly.
While Broken Into Better Shape may play to bigger stages, Good Old War is sure to include plenty of classic moments too. “Small World’s” percussive tapping, finger snapping and hand clapping remain bound by a symbiosis of acoustic fortitude and Goodwin’s intimate, wispy way with words that handily pulls off intimate passages like “I know a place where we can go, it’s not impossible to be alone, it’s in a hidden place that can’t be found, there’s no one else around in this small small world.” “Dark Days” and “I’m The One” offer similar levels of shear acoustic bliss, boasting smooth, sing along harmonies propped up by cushions of transitory piano keys. Even when all dressed up in a shiny new suit, Good Old War continues to draw parallels to their “Coney Island” days.
Up until this point, Good Old War has played a fairly conservative game from album to album, but Broken Into Better Shape breaks that trend. Without speaking negatively of their past (none of their albums disappoint), Good Old War is in hot pursuit of a new levels of musicianship. By melding the magical sonic warmth inherent in their acoustic approach with broader, more diverse ambition, Good Old War has produced what could very well be the breakout record of their career.