Some music is just better left open to interpretation. Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho, the New York duo doing work under the Blues Control moniker, fit that open-ended quotient nicely. Equal doses Thelonious Monk, Sonic Youth, and Brian Eno, the pair has surprised many listeners over the course of three albums with its ability to extract something cohesive out of varying musical styles that, at least on the surface, don’t seem like they’d make pleasant company on the same record. And yet the finished product has proven more often than not to be something genuinely unique and outside the box, a prized commodity in an indie rock underbelly that strives for single-minded non-conformity.
Valley Tangents, the band’s fourth full-length and first for Drag City, certainly furthers the duo’s status as indie rock mavericks, artfully making use of the free jazz, electronica, and art rock sounds that the band has made its musical playground. Quality notwithstanding, it’s hard to imagine coming across another record this year that sounds quite like it. The trick for listeners is figuring out for themselves how much that ingenuity is worth.
“Love’s a Rondo”, built off a foundation of light, splashy drumming, hard-bop piano, ambient synthesizers, and angsty guitar squeals, nicely captures what the band’s music is all about, pushing indie rock outside of its cushy, well-defined layer into more expansive, sophisticated realms. Elsewhere, “Open Air” is a pleasantly executed piece of picturesque art rock (think Eno’s Music For Films set on a beach). But not all tracks work quite as well. “Opium Den/ Fade To Blue”, with its Kenny G meets Jethro Tull clarinet lines, sounds like something you’d hear waiting on hold trying to call your bank. And without so much as a whisper of vocal to be found throughout the album’s six tracks, Valley Tangents doesn’t have the verse/chorus/verse structure that welcomes most listeners with open arms. That may be by design, but the album is a bit heavy handed at times in showing off its technical prowess.
Blues Control have more than their fare share of interesting moments here, and that may prove enough for more adventurous listeners. But on the whole, Valley Tangents plays more like an exercise or experiment than a fully-realized album, which makes you wonder how much the duo’s tampering outside the lines is actually worth in the long run.
Essential Tracks: “Love’s a Rondo”