Dylan Connor’s Breakaway Republic does not break too far from the power pop that has preceded it. Nor is it a banana republic without any real substance. At its best it is the perfect combination of story song and sugary pop. At its worst it is Matthew Sweet and Bob Mould Sugar. Either way it’s a good way to spend a half hour.
Throughout the album, Connor shows that he knows how to construct a good pop song. Excellent melodies mix with his smooth voice and well played guitar. Songs like “Breakaway and Burn” with its falsetto chorus and “Soundwave Surfer” with its sonic surfing approximation seem like Connor at his most original. “Pave Me” and “Come Swim” have a harder edge to them like Mould. “Blood Like Fire” stands alone on the album as a country-ish ballad somewhere between Johnny Cash and Chris Isaak. The rest of the album sounds like Connor trying his best to emulate the aforementioned Matthew Sweet. This is perhaps best summed up in the chorus of “What’s New” when he states, “What’s new is what I don’t do.”
Of course the lyrics are as important as the song structures and this is where Connor shines. Clever rhymes and twists of phrase bring originality and ownership to the album. Also in “What’s New” he seems to poke fun at his sound alike nature with “the memory is my muse, I’m not amused.” But it’s lines like that and musical elements like accentuating “Silver Food” with silvery steel drum sounds that truly contact the muse.
Fire imagery shows up several times throughout the album. In “Breakaway and Burn” he states that “it’s all right to burst into the light,” almost giving himself permission to shine. In “Blood Like Fire” he admits that “we might get burned” but doesn’t give away his power as, “in the morning we’ll scatter our own ashes on the ground.” Likewise there is plenty of water imagery. In “Don’t Let Me Wash Away” he says “you crash land in a water glass and you’re drowning fast.” Where in that song water is something to fear in “Come Swim” and “Soundwave Surfer” it is something to embrace.
Relationships are also a theme throughout the album and again span the range. The hypocritical friendship in “Pave Me” where he muses, “if you feel like dirt what makes you think you can pave me” and the spurned love of “I Want Everybody to Know” sit on one end of the spectrum. These give way to the nurturing of “Silver Food” and divine relationship in “Had A Little Dream,” where he sings, “I hardly pray but I know you are with me today, I feel you in the music I play.”
If the worst that can be said about Breakaway Republic is that it falls into the category of musical idol worship here and there, Connor’s not doing so bad. Fortunately for him, that is the worst that can be said about the album. Equally fortunate is that his idols are excellent power pop song crafters, a skill that has rubbed off on Dylan himself. The elements off skill, craft, and occasional brilliance are enough to outweigh the more lackluster elements and may even have you pledging allegiance “to the Republic” in which it stands.