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Breathless “The Glass Bead Game”

“Exquisite melancholic indie pop.” – The Guardian

“Without exaggeration Dominic Appleton is by far, my favorite living male vocalist. He has such a beautiful, sad voice and comes up with melodies that do the same.” – Ivo Watts-Russell

Appropriately naming themselves after the French New Wave classic from Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless are effortlessly cool, fashionably dark, hopelessly melancholic and frustratingly off center romantics. Often lumped together with bands like The Sound and Comsat Angels, Breathless have more in common with the mid to late 80s wandering output of The Cure, The Cocteau Twins and other artists stretching the post punk dream pop template, thanks to the strength of their arrangements and shifting time signatures, along with one of the greatest vocalists to ever step foot in the genre.

Ari Neufeld knew a unique talent when she saw it and quickly drafted Dominic Appleton in to her current band due to his inventive keyboard skills. The two immediately found that they had a strong songwriting bond that far outstripped the rest of the group. Folding in guitarist Gary Mundy, with whom Appleton had been in previous projects, including their marvelous work backing Anne Clark on her debut album, the trio set out on a new path, with Appleton crucially taking command of the vocal duties.

Following their debut single, drummer Tristram Latimer Sayer emerged to add another dynamic layer to the Breathless sound. It would be that foursome who would enter Blackwing Studios with John Fryer behind the board, as the sessions for their debut LP began. Recording so as to capture their live interplay before returning for overdubs, the initial session resulted in All My Eye And Betty Martin, Count On Angels and Monkey Talk. Returning six months later, the same methods would bring about Every Road Leads Home, Touchstone, Sense Of Purpose and See How The Land Lies. The intricate web of an album was quickly emerging.

Leading off with Across The Water, The Glass Bead Game(in reference to the Hermann Hesse novel, and continuing the band’s name-checking essential work in other artistic avenues) Breathless slowly coaxes the listener in, as if Appleton is singing hymnals while surrounded by transmissions from space. It’s that haunting voice that is so distinctive, the voice that many would swoon over when Appleton would guest several times on the This Mortal Coil project at Ivo’s insistence.

All My Eye And Betty Martin follows, washed over with glacial atmospherics and layered vocals. While Mundy and Neufeld establish a signature interplay of cutting guitar and bass melodies, the linear build owes as much to where Talk Talk were headed than where The Cure and Joy Division had been. Latimer Sayer’s halting jazzy drums continue that feeling until Mundy scratches open Count On Angels, building towards a frenzied swirl of sound and melody. Monkey Talk slinks around the darkened corners as Appleton laments being “two days from Eden.” It is a powerful close to side one at nearly eight minutes long.

Side two sees a bracing insistence emerge as Every Road Leads Home surges ahead before a sudden stop gives way to the nervous tension of Touchstone, stretching out in front us like a cascading blanket of snow, building up layer upon layer of vocals until you can no longer see the night in front of you. The playfully skittering Sense Of Purpose offers a respite of relief and highlights the range available to the talented team. Closing with See How The Land Lies, Appleton continues to contemplate love and loss in personal, if abstract terms. The album on the whole feels intensely intimate, yet spacious and epic at the same time. It signaled the entrance of a mighty voice on the UK music scene.

Linked to labels like 4AD, but with a strong sense of independence and a reluctance to tour endlessly, Breathless would self release their entire catalogue on their Tenor Vossa label. Certainly, the band had the charisma needed for stardom, along with the songwriting skills, but their output would remain on the margins, beloved by those in the know. Hopefully this reissue of their debut (and first ever release of the album in the U.S.) will start to rectify that as they find their proper place in musical history and join the essential dark pop masters.