Blues Control – Valley TangentsPosted by Sarah Anne Lloyd
Valley Tangents, the latest effort from Blues Control, is a little too goofy and playful to be described as “dark,” but it does possess a certain underworldly rhythm. Their lower-octave piano ostinatos permeate throughout the album in deep, electric soundscapes for musical caves the listener can easily get lost in, as always an impressive architectural undertaking for a two-person outfit.
The brassy synth, typically underutilized outside of 8-bit, is a favorite here, as well as plinks more common in traditional noise. Their electric guitar sound is so compressed that it almost blends with the muted synth sounds, letting one instrument stand out with a rich, deep tone that keeps complex arrangements from getting too busy. In “Opium Den/Fade to Blue,” piano trades off with a flute sound to fill this role, only occasionally together. Production is certainly one of the album’s biggest strengths.
Always evolving, Blues Control opts to open their album with a Latin Jazz-inspired number, “Love’s a Rondo,” presumably a clever nod to the musical structure that lends its influence to the album: one of recurrent but variant themes. It sets up the album with deep, smoky chord progressions and glittering piano melodies and synthscapes, an upbeat revue of their diverse list of influences. This makes the transition into the battle cry that is “Iron Pigs” that much more intriguing, setting up the whole album for great things, and infinite musical themes perfectly suited for any party entrance or scheming montage.
In reality, though, it sets up the listener for a gigantic letdown when they run into some blog-prog brick walls and can’t maintain that momentum. That “Opium Den” flute, standing in front of the psychedelic backdrop, can be a little too much when flitting around like it escaped from Jethro Tull. And sometimes, as with “Walking Robin,” you get the sense that they’re just goofing off. These are the parts where the album falls flat and loses its otherwise steady, pounding pace. Of course, there are songs that certainly take their own direction while still maintaining a cohesive, noodle-free vision, like “Open Air,” which gives more of an impressionist feel, punctuated by the occasional sweep of synthesizer.
As with “Opium Den,” though, “Gypsum” meanders in a style far more suited to a live show than an album. These songs, like “Gypsum” and “Walking Robin,” are ultimately exhausting to listen to; hard to keep your attention on, but refusing to fade into the background. Before, there were beautiful, understated answers to the cocky guitar solo, but if they were a warm, psychedelic blanket in their self-titled album then here they just rolled over and tore the blanket off you. It’s when these solos last for a whole song for arpeggio after passionless arpeggio, that things start to get a little phishy. Valley Tangents falls flat where Local Flavor shimmered: one just can’t help but feel they’re not reaching the same depths here, which is less annoying as it is profoundly disappointing.
To some extent, “Iron Pigs” is also a prolonged jam fest, but it walks with a purpose; it’s just too playful and determined to be dislikable. It’s an abrupt change of pace that brings to mind marching toward a boss battle in a platformer cave level. This focus is what carries the album from being an inconsistent half-mess into a respectable way to spend a half-hour. There’s still something so endearing about even the most sloppy parts of Valley Tangents that you can only see as one song flits to the other: you can see where they’re headed, but this is just a particularly muddy part of the journey.