Crooked Fingers Breaks in the Armor (Merge Records)
When Crooked Fingers frontman Eric Bachmann sings the opening line of "Typhoon," the first song from the band's sixth album, Breaks In the Armor, his voice could be mistaken for that of Bruce Springsteen's. It sounds tired and traveled, like he's seen it all but knows he has to keep heading on.
Armor was recorded before Bachmann went on tour with the recently reunited Archers of Loaf, and the songs were written while he was in Taiwan, first stumbling around drunk because he was burned out on songwriting, then teaching English to the children of Taipei. For some time, it seemed like he was done with music, which is possibly why Armor is so refreshingly unpretentious and simple. It's like the acoustic beginning of "Hate Paste," before the drums explode, just for an entire album.
Bachmann's sings without a snarl now, and on songs like the creaky, haunting "The Hatchet," he rasps, "I'm leaving my friend, it's hitting me now/If I loved you before, I could love you again." The musical accompaniment is indirect, little more than light guitar and bass and unobtrusive drums; even during the playful, tempo-changing "The Counterfeiter," nothing overshadows Bachmann's clenched-jaw voice. A quiet "how can we say we've seen the light, when we're only at a night," with toe-tapping accompaniment, can be just as powerful as "I'm inclined to boil, destroy your maze," if it's sung the right way. With the understated Breaks In the Armor, Bachmann makes the subtle commanding.