by Chris Jones (@casperthejoke)
West Canada’s Blessed follow up 2017’s ii with Salt, their first full length record. Salt bears many similarities to its predecessor, namely in its post punk sensibilities, experimental song structures and intricate instrumental passages. However, Salt utilizes a more diverse palette of sounds, reaching beyond distorted guitars to make use of synthesizers, clean textures and advanced harmony. It also combines various sub-genres of rock with jazz and classical music, achieving a trademark sound that defies genre.
Opener “Rolled Glass” seems to pick up where their previous effort left off, building anticipation with a grizzly bassline and shouted vocals from guitarist and vocalist Drew Riekman. Yet when the rest of the band comes in, they sidestep expectation, exchanging the distorted tones and angular instrumentation on ii for crystal clean guitars and a whirlwind of synthesizers. The virtuosic performances and punk spirit are still with them, but from here on out it is abundantly clear that the band is exploring new territory rather than simply rehashing what they’ve done in the past.
Throughout the record, the band continues to explore the “post” part of post-punk by incorporating other genres into their sound. Second track “Thought” kicks off with a propulsive drum groove surrounded by panned guitars that call and respond to each other from the left and right stereo channels. Occasionally, the band breaks and allows the guitars to harmonize, only to resume their pummeling march forward. While this is the shortest song on the record, it feels like an odyssey in and of itself because of how it combines disparate styles, merging punk rock with jazz harmony and crystalline post-rock guitar textures.
“Purpose and Conviction,” the third track, opens with a beautiful wash of guitars before quickly switching into a bass-driven verse featuring a shadowy synth lead. Though the verses of this song recall the gothic gloom of Joy Division, Blessed avoid mere mimicry by continuing to employ their trademark guitar interplay. Furthermore, the band eventually descends into an extended coda that sounds more like haunted classical music than any post-punk outfit from the seventies.
On the back half of Salt, Blessed continue to baffle the listener with a slew of songs that range from highly experimental to highly accessible. On “Pill” and “Anchor,” Blessed are at their most adventurous. “Pill” sounds like a math rock version of the Sex Pistols, combining snide vocals with topsy turvy rhythms. The complex guitar interplay eventually reaches a fever pitch on this track, escalating to a shredded scramble before dropping into an odd-metered groove. On the next track, “Anchor,” Blessed make use of electronic drums and synthetic sounds, creating a soundscape that would befit a horror movie. The song concludes in a rush of harsh noise and feedback before segueing into what is likely the most accessible song on the record, “Disease.” A shocking transition, “Disease” sounds like The Cure, complete with a melodic synth line outlining the verses and beautiful vocal harmonies gracing the choruses.
Sometimes, Blessed explore these accessible and inaccessible impulses within the same song. On “Zealot,” for instance, they employ one of their most infectious vocal melodies but choose to subvert that beauty by ending the song in a chaotic maelstrom of noise. Here, Blessed suspend themselves in a perfect balance between pop and experimentation, reeling it in and switching direction before they go too far one way.
On “Caribou,” the final track, Blessed allow themselves to sprawl out and sum up everything they are in three distinct sections. The song opens with a brooding drum and bass groove accompanied by minimal guitar and synth arrangements, recalling the primal sound of ii. Yet as the song progresses, the band makes room for more complexity. In the second section, they employ the pretty guitar harmonies that have come to distinguish Salt from previous releases. While the drums start with a steady groove, they grow more wild and strange as time moves on, building up intensity until Blessed reach a crushing crescendo that draws on heavy metal as an influence.
Since “Caribou” explores so much sonic territory, it begins to sound like a mission statement about everything the band is capable of achieving. They can be at once brooding and wild, gorgeous and grotesque, light as a feather and heavy as a bag of bricks, and all within the same song. The possibilities are truly endless and that’s what makes Blessed such an exciting group to watch.