Friday, June 15, 2012

Blues Control Drops Valley Tangents: A Review Of The New Album

Who would have ever believed that the heirs to the Portishead legacy would come out of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania?

Blues Control are from my neck of the woods -- sure, they are miles aways from D.C. but the distance between Pa. and D.C. doesn't seem as great when I'm writing this from Hong Kong! -- and they create music that sometimes seems European, for lack of a better adjective.

The tunes on Valley Tangents, out 19 June on Drag City, echo that trippy stuff from Portishead and Broadcast, but also the kind of tunes you'd hear in an old Radley Metzger film.

Hence the label European.

The 6 tunes on Valley Tangents are all different, yet the sound of this group is distinctive. These are, quite simply, tunes for an imaginary soundtrack, to paraphrase some title I saw once.

"Love's A Rondo" starts off wearing its Barry Adamson influence on its sleeve. It's crime show piano all the way here. Then some decidedly hard fuzz guitar comes in -- think early SFA -- and things unroll, the guitar and piano gently duelling over light brush-work on the skins.

"Iron Pigs", despite referencing 2 Black Sabbath titles in its title, is more African Head Charge, Massive Attack, and that sort of thing. Sure, the guitar wails like Knopfler in his youth, and there's a hint of Zappa in the keyboard buzz, but it's more blues-y menace stretched out and explored.

Quite simply, it sounds like this was recorded live in the studio and that is an enormous compliment. Hard to believe that this is just 2 people!

"Opium Den/Fade To Blue" starts with a disco-era run on the jazz flute -- cue Ron Burgundy! -- but then turns into a shuffling instrumental with the sort of psuedo-Middle Eastern vibe Zep cultivated so well on Led Zeppelin III.

"Walking Robin" is a short guitar-led riffer with drums (?) like footsteps -- boot-thumps -- in the background. Add in some atmospherics, a harpsichord (?), and a hint of a Mick Karn bass-line, and it's another charmer on this record.

"Open Air" takes things to another level. Vaguely reminiscent of both Tomita doing Debussy and an old David Sylvian record, the keyboard figure positively aches as the song unfurls. What sounds like found music -- or something heard in the distance from an open window -- has the power to affect. And while the cut is not direct, it's moving and emotional in a strange way. There's nothing obvious here but the mix of pieces -- piano, noises, and melody -- creates a mood that lingers after these few minutes have passed.

"Gypsum" glides in on a funk groove -- think Booker T. mixed with some Horace Silver or Herbie Hancock -- then it chugs along on that ominous tuba-like bass-figure. A few piano notes, a skip up the keyboard, and an insistent riff and the tune kicks like the simple drum pattern that anchors the cut.

Blues Control sound unlike anyone else today. I name-checked Portishead but that's due to the attitude and not the same sort of sound. Same goes with that nod to Broadcast.

The truth is that Blues Control owe a big debt to Barry Adamson's soundtrack work but Russ and Lea of Blues Control sound like a real band. This isn't simply a collection of atmospherics here.

While the songs have a lot of menace and nuance, they're more than just background noise, or noodlings. What genre is this?

How to describe Blues Control?

I can't very well and that's a good thing.

Sometimes music shouldn't be a bunch of genre-references strung together, shouldn't be posturing that points to an earlier, better era in indie-rock.

Sometimes music should transcend any easy category and just exist.

This is that sort of music. Buy this record, put on your headphones, and explore the world and live out your own movie.

For the movie in your head, let Valley Tangents be the strange and oddly affecting soundtrack.

Follow Blues Control on their Facebook page:

Or on their label:
Drag City