April 24, 2017
Released On March 25, 2014
Break Of Reality is one of those groups that, at first, seems like a product of the YouTube star generation not unlike where you’ll find 2 Piano Guys: Many cellos and a single percussionist who plays far more than your standard drum kit. Similarly, they might also look like a group that was made out of desire to capitalize on a gimmick until it burns out. This is definitely not the case on either point. Making music independently since 2006, even though “cello rock” sounds incredibly niche, the compositions and performances Break of Reality offer reach far beyond just the demographics of classical musicians or cello players.
They have managed, over the course of their four releases thus far, to navigate and blend well, elements of mainstream popularity and complex compositional style. These choices all exist within the dynamic of their career as a group that’s not only enabled them to continue expanding but has been managed with a confident steadiness that sometimes eludes independents once things get to a certain level of recognition. Add in that this independent, genre-niche band, also has an extreme dedication to the field of music education (so much so that there is a designated section for such on their website) and not only performs regularly within school settings but also hosts workshops or speaking engagements to get people just plain interested in music and, the idea of breaking reality might just be the only way to describe exactly how different this band is.
That’s just how I can try to describe everything that encompasses Break Of Reality beyond their recordings. To do so feels necessary, since, as stellar as Ten and the other albums are, there’s no way to know from the pieces alone, just how uniquely this group has positioned themselves (the extent of which is worth exploring and following all on its own). Once armed with all of this context and the band’s comprehensive ambitions, the intricacies of Ten become that much more applaudable beyond the face value of the notes within it.
Following a 2012 release of cross-genre covers (I don’t have an obsession with cover albums, I promise!), Ten picks up where the original material of 2009’s Spectrum Of The Sky left off. If one is listens to these two albums back to back, the degree of alteration, experimentation, and overall display of musical growth, comes across more clearly. Ivan Trevino’s tonally varied percussion parts remain a steadfast post of dynamic punctuation that cuts through the heavy but smooth tones from Break of Reality’s many low string players but right away with the cyclical and seven count time signature of opening track and lead single, “Helix,” from both the notes of the piece itself, and knowing that founding member, Patrick Laird, is responsible for the exceptional quality mixing of Ten, the band is out to show that it is absolutely not looking to rely on tonal contrast alone to inspire listener awe.
Of course, that’s not to say tonal contrast and textural surprise overstay their welcome on this record. Percussive sounds range from that of the conventional snare drum, floor tom, and crash cymbal, to the gentle hit of drum heads on assorted forms of hand percussion, allowing for the cellos to alternate with Trevino in terms of sonic prominence and arrangement priority throughout the 10 tracks. Break Of Reality is also able to extract dimensions of difference thanks to the high level of individual skill across the growing body of players associated with the band.
It’s one thing to say, “We have songs written in uncommon meters!” and it’s another to consistently write music that demands players who can execute playing techniques with unwavering precision. (The cumulative musical resumes of the cellists who have played with Break Of Reality would make you think this is secretly some kind of super group.) Additionally, while some of the tracks on Ten focus on highlighting group synchronicity and artistic cohesion via more legato melodies (“Drift Apart“), others require confidence with things like a controlled bowing arm and consistent physical stamina for fast but lengthy passages of notes that span the body of the cello (“Star“). More over, because of the expansive collective sound Break Of Reality can generate and the versatility of the cello with regard to placement in other forms of media, to also give validation for their labeling of “cinematic rock” is done not without merit, as is evident through the scene inspiring and scene supporting flow of tracks like “Uprising” and “Other Worlds.”
Really, even though Break Of Reality is far from the only band to incorporate elements of complex theory, grassroots education, and modern artist appeal together in one project, its unwavering crowd of fascinated onlookers, non-pandering original writing, and seemingly industry impervious existence is what makes their slightly off-the-radar works like Ten such greats finds once they’ve been pointed out to you.
Blending together the complex brilliance of classical music with the instinctual appeal of modern songwriting.
You’re not supposed to be able to have your cake and eat it too. Ten is an exception. Often with music that’s mathy or engages in repetition, notes end up sounding like pure tonality; the timbre of instruments gets lost in the blissful abstraction of following patterns. And if you were looking at written score for songs like “Helix” or “Drift Apart,” you might think that tonality would reign supreme. But that just doesn’t happen with the cello. The cello’s tone is so layered and distinct. There’s so much room for expression. And the depth it affords… all that inextricable coloring means you get the analytical fun of theory woven into a sound that’s consistently rich in personality. That intersection is most apparent when Break Of Reality builds tension, like just after the 2:30 mark in “Nine Deep,” when the sonic landscape is wiped clean so that the group can work toward a crescendo that’s defined as much by drama as it is by volume. “Uprising” goes a step further, with a final build that gives way to an extended coda that makes the most of the cello’s considerable emotive powers. I’m not sure if the folks who comprise Break Of Reality are fans of pop punk or emo, but the sheer amount of emotion radiating from Ten makes me think maybe they are, and that their cellos are longingly singing about “leaving this town.” It’s a silly thought, but those big, beautiful stringed instruments aren’t just playing notes. That much I’m sure of.
Damn. OK, this is beautiful. I admit I would not normally check out something like Break Of Reality based on a quick description. A cello trio backed by a drummer making instrumental epics sounds entirely too precious and prog for me to get much out of it. I’m glad I was required to listen to it anyway, as Ten is full of gorgeous melodies that create a vast ambient atmosphere around them (surely partly due to the fact that the trio of cellos is masterfully recorded). The emotion that comes through in the melodies, the dynamic song construction, and the passion with which this is all put together is deep, and has a melancholy undertone for the most part, but definitely has the strength to move you throughout this grand, affecting album. To be clear, despite the instrumentation, I would not call this group a classical ensemble, so don’t expect that sort of thing. It’d be much closer to the truth to call this classically-influenced post-rock… or at least, that’s what I would say based on my previous listening background. Perhaps this kind of thing does resemble current trends in the world of classical music, though… if that’s true, maybe I should start paying more attention to that world. Because I love this.
Halfway through the beautiful “Drift Apart,” I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Wow, this has to be the biggest change of pace from one week to another in the history of OYR (last week was Blood, Guts, And Pizza by The Dolts). Doug must’ve done this on purpose.” Whatever the case, Break Of Reality provided the perfect soundtrack for a rainy weekend indoors. Ten is an emotionally stirring record from beginning to end; there’s just something so heart wrenching about that damn cello. That’s probably why my favorite song on the album is “Uprising.” Sure, every song features the cello, but only “Uprising” has an absolutely breathtaking solo at the 3:40 mark. I actually had to rewind — is that still what we call it when you want to go backwards in time on an mp3? — and re-listen at least four or five times. I know this might sound weird, but I first fell in love with classical chamber music when I saw Young Frankenstein as a kid. If you’ve never seen this bit of classic cinema, do yourself a favor and stream it immediately. Hearing that gorgeous, haunting cello solo brought back all of those fond memories — and that’s certainly why I listened to it five times over. I couldn’t get enough.
A severe and emotive performance set across a sparse and grim background.
On days when rain falls down from a gray sky and blurs all the leaves together I miss everyone I’ve ever loved. Driving through a soft-edged world, pretending to be alone, I listened to Elliot Smith and Leonard Cohen and wondered about past lovers and friends who have slipped in and out of my life. Sometimes there’s a sad that overtakes, the sucking kind of wound that pulls at the edges of your vision, tricks you into catching glimpses of those you’ve forgotten in the expressions of strangers. I don’t always want to come out of that kind of sad. It’s indulgent down there in that hole, pitying and warm, heavy and full. When this happens, I remember the poppy field, the swamp of sadness, and I close my eyes against soliticious friends to sleep and dream. Against this backdrop I turned on Ten, the instrumental album from Break of Reality, somewhat unwillingly, my heart still in the swamp. Dramatic peals of music filled the room, cello swelling up and up, backed by a drum set. Emotive is the best word I can think of for this album, acting as a template upon which the listener can write out the gray and green and grabby sadness, so the cello swings in time to my heartbeat, the drums pound out against a memory. Listening this week was better alone; I waded through that album, watching the rain, trying to remember the cracks in those past relationships weren’t completely created by me. The thing is, though, this cello rock isn’t soft and tender, but emotional in the violent, loud way that pure emotion actually feels like, not the sentimentality associated sometimes with the cello. As I progressed through the album, I moved through faces, times I was unhappy, people I will never know again, just walking through those old hurts, fingering their edges before letting them slip back down into my murky subconscious again. By the time I finished the album, I was clearing the swamp, standing up in the poppy field, refreshed by journey.
Is it so wrong that my favorite track on Break Of Reality’s album Ten is the one that sounds the least like the others? I’m talking about the final song, which is called “Six” and begins with pensive piano chords and a tinkling toy keyboard figure before the band’s signature cellos come in. A touch of Steve Reich-style minimalism develops in the background, blending nicely with the pizzicato cellos. The drums arrive like the cavalry, the volume swells, the tempo increases, and it just about gets grandiose, when it pulls back abruptly, back down to a repeated figure on the piano that fades out. It’s very pretty and, like the rest of the album, superbly performed by the musicians involved. The rest of the album kind of blends together to my ears, cellos and drums working together or in opposition, big melodies followed by driving riffs, pretty much what you would imagine from a group that has 15 million views on YouTube for their cover of the Game Of Thrones theme song. I can imagine their own music being used for a soundtrack as well and wondered if visuals might make me feel less like there was something incomplete about the album. But if you like Lord Of The Rings or video game soundtracks, and maybe some kinds of progressive rock (Rush?), Ten could be just the thing you’re looking for to score your own daily adventures. And if you’re feeling even more musically adventurous, I urge you to seek out First Day by Laura Metcalf, one of the cellists in Break Of Reality. It’s a beautiful album with classical music spanning 300 years and four countries. Start with Dan Visconti’s sly, bluesy “Hard Knock Stomp” and see where it takes you…
What really strikes me about all ten of the songs on this album is how much they are changed by the addition of drums. The songs would be beautiful without drums. Break Of Reality could absolutely have released this album with just cellos. But the addition of drums gives each song context and momentum. It’s probably my background in non-classical music that is at work, here. Because, if I’m being honest, the drums make the songs sound more like rock songs. They are the Rosetta Stone that allows me to hear the music as forcefully as the band intended. I listened to this album several times in one sitting as I worked on a creative writing project. It may have been a coincidence, but I feel like I was now focused than I would have been if the music had been something else. Because it was instrumental string music with driving percussion, it gave me just enough to tap my foot to, but not so much that I got distracted by what was going on with the lyrics or instrumentation. I very much enjoyed this album.
Emotive and fascinating at its core, the appeal of this music far extends technical and classical appreciation.
Break Of Reality are a New York classical ensemble bleeding alternative metal and pop into otherworldly original cello and percussive instrumental compositions. Their album Ten sounds as though it could be the most critical output the ensemble has released to date. On tracks like, Light The Fuse” and “Uprising,” their proclaimed modern influences (Tool, System Of A Down) come through heavily. It’s interesting watching these musicians perform more nuanced songs like “Helix” and “Star” together on video, and powerful as well. The rigid attack they must have on their instruments and the playful fierceness with which they perform them together is at once familiar, but must be odd to adjust to for fans of straight classical where the ensemble is cleverly breaking through a wall with their express loudness and a kind of joyful tenacity. I have a tendency to favor albums with sweeping end-tracks — Yo La Tengo’s “Satellite” (May I Sing With Me, 1992), or Bettie Serveert’s “Silent Spring” (Lamprey, 1995) — and for Ten, the end track led me to “Six.” Xylophone punctuates this song like tiny stars and the track itself almost has an out of tune or stretched quality to it — like that of an old cassette tape as it winds. It’s pretty, punctuated by percussive strength. A lot of these songs have a bit of Jeckyll and Hyde to them, but I like that on “Six” it leads out on grace, how it began: like stars dimming out in a darkened sky. It’s beautiful, really.
After a few weeks absent, Break Of Reality felt like the perfect breath of fresh air to return to Off Your Radar. Something that was completely out of my wheelhouse, but absolutely familiar within a few quick digital investigative turns. The first thing that came to mind is my newfound interest in video game scores and how Break Of Reality could fit that bill easily. Especially on a song like “Uprising,” this just screams and shouts fantasy to me. Also, “Drift Apart” does the unlikeliest of things by channeling vivid thoughts through each cello crescendo and the storytelling becomes universal at that point. Another thing that I found to be fascinating was how the release prior to this was a collection of covers from the likes of Coheed And Cambria, System Of A Down, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Radiohead, and several others. These influences speak volumes as to how Break Of Reality challenge themselves to emulate their idols and go beyond to create a unique phrasing within each musical movement. This was also the perfect thing to be listening to as I slowly packed up a few of my belongings in pursuit of moving into a new apartment. The sounds of Ten feel like a journey that awaits you and the modest mental murmurs that fuel the next stage that lies ahead in this game that we are all willing participants in.
As much as I marvel at great instrumental albums of any type, most don’t really stay with me long after listening. I know this is a problem with a lot of other music fans and critics too and, at the risk of assuming and generalizing, I think it has something to do with pathos. To me, a voice is what gives a song instant pathos. It informs the listener. It guides them. It hooks them. Even when the music itself is the most striking moment of a song, it’s still the voice that gives your mind answers, either exposed or shrouded, as to what’s happening. Obviously, this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of Buckethead tracks, like “Baptism Of Solitude,” that are extremely compelling, while songs like “Jessica” by The Allman Brothers have inescapable charm. But in all those cases, the music has to work a bit harder to really connect, to really drive home that there is something compelling and engaging here that the listener should pay attention to. I don’t think it’s rare that instrumental music overcomes this deficit. In fact, I’m sure some of our readers could provide days’ worth of instrumental music that construct pathos better than someone like Bob Dylan. How often this does or doesn’t occur though doesn’t lessen how utterly impressive it really is. That’s what I’m left thinking after listening to Ten, an instrumental record that’s somehow occupied my mind the past week through multiple trips to the dump, watching Split, playing Breath Of The Wild, and even doing the dishes. The cello being one of the — if not the — most emotive instruments in the world certainly helps Break Of Reality out, but if it was just that fact alone, this newsletter probably would have covered 2Cellos by now. The drums do add a great deal of depth and character to each song, whether Ivan Trevino is thundering in the intro (“Uprising“) or subtly working his way into the string conversation (“Other Worlds“), but there’s still something more here. Little moments here and there that make the listener stop in their tracks and really examine what’s going on here. Why is there a lull in the melody? What happened to the third cello part? Why haven’t the drums come in? What is this part building to? And, most importantly, what does it all mean? The answer or non-answer to all those questions is pathos, something Break Of Reality have truly mastered with only four instruments on Ten.
Good Luck Studio by Friday Mile
Chosen By James Anderson