St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ newest album, Angels in Science Fiction, was originally written by frontman Paul Janeway as a series of letters to his then-unborn daughter Marigold, for whom the closing track is named. With this heartfelt and emotionally complex scenario as its foundation, the album proves itself to be an exploration of sound and instrumentation. Anchored by strong drum lines, the album features other instruments to varying levels throughout; strings, keys, and guitar each get their own moment in the spotlight. Even Janeway’s vocals traverse octaves.
Given the size of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, which is an eight piece ensemble, the variation of featured instruments is logical, but still impressive. The band, which in addition to Janeway includes Jesse Phillips on bass, Browan Lollar on guitar, Kevin Leon on drums, Al Gamble on keyboards, Allen Branstetter on trumpet, Chad Fisher on trombone, and Amari Ansari on saxophone, hails from Birmingham, Alabama. St. Paul and the Broken Bones have been playing together for over a decade.
Angels in Science Fiction opens with sparing instrumental backing for the soprano vocals Janeway is known for in “Chelsea,” before swelling to include layered backing vocals to a somewhat synthy effect. “City Federal Building” brings the energy of the album up; the groove and pace of the song is reminiscent of disco tunes. On several songs within the album, the band nods at various genres – disco, gospel, rock, and pop – while staying consistent to their own unique sound. The band plays with tempo and sound throughout the album, keeping some songs simple and exploring combinations of instruments on others. “Lonely Love Song,” the album’s most-streamed track on Spotify, is an experiment in fragility; Janeway sings over a repetitive and simple guitar track, creating a delicate and heartbreaking tune. Closer “Marigold” is triumphant, highlighting intertwined piano and strings.
It is a testament to St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ experience and expertise as a band that they manage to make Angels in Science Fiction a sonically cohesive album. Janeway’s remarkable vocals soar on every song, and a new instrument peeks through the background with each listen. The drum and string lines in particular drive the album forward. The eclectic nature of Angels in Science Fiction works in its favor, making for an exciting listening experience.