Raw-ful Rock

Once the home of P.J. Harvey and Stereolab, the Too Pure label is known for its uncanny ability to detect a diamond in the rough. Its latest find: Hefner, an English trio that deserves some careful consideration. Breaking God's Heart is a raw guitar-pop record reminiscent of early Violent Femmes or Pavement, with the most pained vocals since Dean Wareham's days with Galaxie 500. At home on the range, a lonesome cowbloke accompanied by a posse of off-key crooners, vocalist Darren Hayman whines his way through a despairingly comical, usually lamentable minefield of love and lust. His soothing-as-a-slow-Southern-Comfort-burn vocals, comparable to Jonathan Richman or a wailing Robert Smith, will stab at you not unlike a love affair gone tragically awry.

But there is sweetness here, too, and it lies within the wealth of lyrical twists and the depth of carefully mixed lo-fi-ness of producer Tony Doogan (Felt, Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub). The very snappy, slingshot single, "Love Will Destroy Us in the End," was recorded, then completely overdubbed with a different take heard in each speaker. "Another Better Friend," with off-balanced acoustic guitar and vocals supported by a faintly grinding keyboard, ends in a sudden eruption of blended noise. And the hollow, in-a-box vocals of "Tactile" echo the melancholy hopefulness of the chorus: "I'm not lonely, I'm just bored/clothes are strewn across the living room floor/I don't want to get laid, I just want to be held ... in her arms."

Maybe she would, if only his cracking voice was as sweet as the production.

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