(We Are OK)
Before hearing Art of
Losses, one of the only Blakes tunes to rocket my way was a remarkably
potent one, “Magic,” from the Seattle
trio’s last full-length, Souvenir.
And while critics and other music geeks so frequently reference the hallowed
endeavors of seminal stalwarts such as the Move and the Kinks to emphasize
whatever sound or vibe has been effected by a group of contemporary
string-bangers, in this case, it’s true. “Magic” is a power popster’s fantasy;
combining elements that made the above bands’ names worth dropping, if ever so
casually, in cool, rocker households.
The deal with the Blakes seems to be: What will the combo,
at times heralded as a Next Big Garage Rock Thing, do next? And therein resides
the problem, if there is one, or several. The Blakes are, more or less, all
over the place, varying ‘80s-synth-pop-informed balladry with the more concise
styling of power pop that’s so good it hurts; making one wish for an entire
album of such, or just more. The
vocal delivery commencing “Sea Fishing” could be separated at birth from Mick
Jagger circa Some Girls. That
intensity evolves into slightly moody, clubby beats harkening back to the Human
League and Tears for Fears. A few tracks down the list, the Blakes inject “Red
Rubber Ball” bounce into “Black Carnation,” which recalls the Byrds, R.E.M.,
and the Stones.
But here’s the (happy) rub: The Blakes’ unconscious or
intentional assimilation of an integral rock and pop jukebox works surprisingly
well, and often. The above is just a hapless critic’s attempt to describe and evoke the band’s sound and feel.
The best approach to the Blakes is simply to throw the disc, or switch, on.
Which is far from a rough assignment once “Paralysis” hits – from the first
phrase, it has the immediacy of the best power pop I’ve ever heard (the only
sadism’s in its brevity – two minutes, 39 seconds!). Rock, power pop, garage
rock, post-punk – as with much of this disparately styled album, “Paralysis”
smells, by any name, as sweet.
In an especially kind universe, with the stars in the right
alignment, the Blakes will continue to refine their approach. Along the way,
they’ll drop most of the synth-pop, replacing it with material that’s more
consistently immediate. They’ll eventually land within shouting distance of the
Flamin’ Groovies, a band that was also known for incorporating a number of
classic rock elements, to great artistic (fans in near-ecstasy; bopping
themselves into exhausted satiation) success. Possibility number two: No
miraculous growth transpires. The Blakes continue to do whatever they feel like
doing, and future albums contain at least as many sporadic gems as does Art of Losses.
In that case, I’ll still have my finger on the download
DOWNLOAD: “Art of
Losses,” “Paralysis,” “That’s the End,” “Sea Fishing” MARY LEARY