It’s interesting that the name of San Francisco band Blisses B’s newest album is Thirty Days, Sixty Years. The band’s sound certainly is refreshing and immediate, something that feels like it could be only 30 days old. But the hybrid genre in which the band is working pulls from all sorts of sonic traditions from the past 60 years. And in light of the juxtapositions that the band seems to relish, what could be a mess is actually a surprising and exhilarating pop album.
The first track, “Regal Goodbyes,” is kind of a good overview of what the band is doing sonically on this album. The very first section has a jittery, burbling-guitar driven math-rock feel. Then there’s a guitar solo that sounds like it could have been lifted from The Last Waltz. The song also has touches of the ubiquitous dance-rock that pervaded the airwaves not long ago. It’s the kind of thing that could be played in a coffee shop basement, an arena, or a dance club and still feel somewhat at home.
But what Blisses B is doing here isn’t just an overloaded trifle of a bunch of styles jumbled together. It’s more subtle and whole, like peanut butter and chocolate. The flavors have their appeal by themselves, sure, but together they offer something even more, something surprising and satisfying.
And surprising it is. Lyrically, the thing is somewhere between Animal Collective and Coldplay; the words are really specific and sometimes absurd, but the sentiment is general. Good, solid fodder for pop songs. It’s the album’s sonic landscape that is the true star here. It has bluegrass moments bookended with Battles-style minimalism, Modest Mouse-sounding choruses peppered with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah yelp-rock. Who knew Hammond organ and Allman Brothers riffs could go so well with DFA rhythms and Minus the Bear guitar skitters?
I think a band could be tempted to go much lighter with a stylistic amalgamation like this, to skew humorous. An artist might take the easy way out, treating the whole thing as a romp and not as a chance to do something interesting artistically. Instead, Blisses B shows real competence not only in the textures of pop music, but also in constructing melody lines and counterpoints that elevate the whole experience beyond mere confection. The band insists on committing full bore to their aesthetic, and none of this genre-bendings is done just for the hell of it. It’s all in pursuit of a coherence.
Take for example “Fine and Dandy:” the song starts with an almost Andrew Bird acoustic and symphonic build, jumps into an arena-anthem drum-pounding chorus, and then takes an abrupt but entirely organic-feeling left turn into banjo-strumming and Phoenix-style foot-stomping indie pop. It’s tied together by Noah Libby’s distinctively careening and rollicking vocals.
The only problem is that Blisses B is kind of emerging onto a crowded scene. A lot of bands are exploring the territory opened up by people like Bloc Party, the Arctic Monkeys and especially the aforementioned Minus The Bear and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It’s hard to make a mark in this sea of people all milling around similar guitar pop sounds.
Blisses B makes a mark, no question; this album is an unexpected pleasure of pop songcraft, indie musicianship aesthetic, and genuinely fun as hell country and psych rock. I can’t say without reservation that Thirty Days, Sixty Years ranks with the top artists in this field. But this album is just plain exhilarating, so even if they aren’t at the top just yet, Blisses B has proven that they are aiming there. And certainly capable of getting there.
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