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As debut albums go, 'Promises I Should Have Kept' by Liverpool-based outfit Roja seems remarkably ambitious and remarkably fulfilled. If we delve into their history we find that they've risen from the ashes of scuzzy Brit-rockers Marlowe, so while this may be this band's debut, the musicians involved are a little more experienced than that may suggest. Having almost totally ditched the sound of this previous group, the quintet have instead opted for a style that's maybe best described as Calexico covering a Tindersticks album. It's highly atmospheric, deeply brooding, smouldering even, and all coated in Mariachi horns and other cinematic orchestration.
They waste no time in letting you know this either. Opener 'The Evil Stands High' is something of an epic; a bit like an alt-rock band soundtracking 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'. They set the bar at an exceptional height with this very first song, one that grows and will possibly be as majestic a track of this (admittedly specialist) genre as you'll hear all year. It does prove impossible to live up to, not that that stops them from trying. Surely the whistled intro to 'Don't Leave Me Here To Die' is designed to evoke the spirit of Western movies, and its orchestration is again exceptionally well done. 'Yeah I Could' is another that impresses with its ambient power and dramatic twists. 'I'm Your Lover Not Your Man' starts slowly but finishes on a high and 'The End' is a curious hybrid of these more exotic sounds and British folk music.
If faults are to be found it's mainly down to the difficulty in maintaining such a high standard. There's nothing wrong with the jazzy, lounge-style 'Oh L'amour (Part1)' but it suffers from the surroundings it finds itself in, and much the same could be said of 'Some Moments Of Silence'; both are again nicely orchestrated, but once you've tasted the grandeur of some of the record's other tunes they lose a little of their shine. The only real slip-up is on 'Heart Attack' where they somehow get the formula diluted slightly differently and find themselves with a song that at some points could be a ballad by The Mavericks. As a rule though, 'Promises I Should Have Kept' is written and arranged almost impeccably, and when they hit their stride they're pretty unbeatable in their field.
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