Album to album, the sound of Blueneck is hard to predict: instrumental, buried vocal, clear vocal, mix. But the melancholic mix of piano and guitars is constant, as is the level of quality. The new work pushes the band further into the crossover realm, and for the first time includes a lyric sheet. The post-rock roots are still there, but a wider array of potential markets is opened.
Snatches of phrases are apparent in the opening track, coming through like transmissions in a storm: “harm myself,” “one last breath”, “counting out.” But when the storm breaks, the words become clear, sung in a near-falsetto over spacious piano. We’re approaching Coldplay territory here, but Blueneck is far too clever for that, and its words possess a far darker tone. In fact, these dispatches can be downright depressive; King Nine is humid, rainy day music, filled with doubts, failures, recriminations and farewells. But the most distinctive couplet arrives on the title track: “You were slightly wrong, but it’s not your fault.” Hearing this line, one recalls the repetition of the line in the film “Good Will Hunting” – a pivotal moment for the protagonist.
A Closer Listen is primarily an instrumental site, but there are three reasons this album is being reviewed here. The first is Blueneck’s instrumental pedigree. The second is that Dustin Attwood’s voice is so distinctive and appealing. And the third is that the instrumental base remains strong. It’s interesting to note that the teaser video below is instrumental, although it comes from a vocal track (“Man of Lies”).
While the new album “pushes Attwood to the fore”, it still contains stunning stretches of vocal-free beauty. The first arrives in the closing 2:10 of lead single “Sirens”, which has been circulating for nearly a year in anticipation of the album. A wall of wailing guitars is joined by crushing bass and soaring strings, producing a sense of adrenalized drama. Most of the other tracks end with 60 to 90 seconds of instrumentation, reversing the normal pop formula, in which brief instrumentals lead to repeated choruses. The obvious highlight is the 9-minute “Mutatis”, which builds to the album’s largest, horn-filled crescendo. We’d love to hear an all-instrumental version of the piece. The album then closes with three pensive instrumental minutes, including light glockenspiel. Apparently, this band can have it both ways. Will they break through to the mainstream, or remain in the shadow of post-rock? We’re not sure, and that’s what makes the question so exciting. (Richard Allen)