brokenlegged || 2017
photo: daniel white
Sinai Vessel formed over the last several years, a gradual build from the early work of singer/guitarist Caleb Cordes to the fully-realized, collaborative effort that is the band’s much-anticipated full-length debut, Brokenlegged. Recalling sounds that range from the painterly emo of The Appleseed Cast to the incisive story-songs of David Bazan, the band began in North Carolina in 2009 as project for Cordes. Those early years culminated in Sinai Vessel’s excellent 2014 EP, Profanity, a record that drew on the outsized drama of mewithoutYou; the canny, observational nuances of Pedro the Lion; the literary smarts of Bright Eyes’ early-00s golden era. A thoughtful yet energized early offering, the Flannel Gurl Records-released mini-album explored existential doubt, spiritual questioning, and hardnosed questions about code and community. Cordes’ flair for double and triple meanings is
etched right there in the title – Profanity as the human experience in all its grit and realism; Profanity as a spiritually risky act of speaking. The EP itself offered its thoughts on both.
But Sinai Vessel the band actually formed in the aftermath of Profanity, a record helmed by Cordes and executed with a rotating cast of volunteers. Only after the album saw the light of day did the project turn into a more active, concrete group, filled out by drummer Joshua Herron and bassist Daniel Hernandez, both high school classmates of Cordes’ and — perhaps essentially — fellow natives of the space and communities that so define Sinai Vessel. The band began to tour, leaning on and building from that sense of kinship and shared experience, and eventually informing the more collaborative and multifaceted Brokenlegged, an album that remarkably balances Cordes’ continued gift for first-person storytelling with a more markedly communal energy.
The album came together gradually. Indeed, Brokenlegged, soon to be released by venerable indie label Tiny Engines, was recorded in its entirety twice. After writing, arranging, and completing the material for the LP all through 2014 and early 2015, the band finally toured to Lawrence, KS to record the album with a veteran producer. But ultimately something was still missing and — in a brave move that recalls Fugazi scrapping a Steve Albini-helmed version of In On The Kill Taker to complete their own more satisfying take – the band decided to begin again, with a clearer sense of exactly what it was that they wanted. This time the band stayed in North Carolina (a move that seems all too apt considering their gift for rendering notions of home and place), recording with David Wimbish, who had recorded Profanity. After a careful and deliberate run of mixing, the LP was finished in September of 2016.
The lessons here are obvious: Sinai Vessel have made exactly the record they wanted to make, an admirable expression of uncompromised vision and perseverance. That zoomed-in determination makes for an interesting counterpoint to the subtle, humanistic ideas explored on the album itself. A more measured, patient album than its predecessor, Brokenlegged allows its eight songs to stretch out and explore wide fields of human emotion, with complex, challenging results. The record is, by definition, “lived-in”: if the moods and timbres carved out in Brokenlegged offer more nuanced, carefully-crafted continuations of the early experimentation of Profanity, then the album’s narratives similarly follow that outwardtending path. The songs here find people trying to live with and reconcile the doubts, anxieties, and ironies freshly uncovered on the band’s first record. If Profanity found Sinai Vessel glimpsing hard truths through a glass darkly, then Brokenlegged, the band’s remarkable full-length debut, finds the trio wondering what one does next. What do you do when nothing is the same yet everyone refuses to admit things have changed? These are the questions begged by Brokenlegged. – Chad Jewett