Bows - Blush
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
It’s track five. Lodged almost benightedly in the wash of rain and dim sunlight, somnambulism and echolalic trumpets is a miraculous anomaly. Luke Sutherland headed Long Fin Killie before he began Bows, and most would declare that their demeanors were dissimilar and even downright antithetical. All three of Long Fin Killie’s albums were dedicated to tragic heroes—Valentino, Houdini, and Amelia—and often spoke of racism and homophobia, filtering those subjects through a more calibrated indie lo-fi machine with each album. Their final album, Amelia, I believe, is one of the most criminally overlooked masterpieces of the last decade.
Then you play “King Deluxe” from Blush, a track previously admired for its subdued, susurrant arrangements and the elegant performance of Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen, whose slight inflections come off as dancing zephyrs. It took me a while to realize that it’s not just how the song is played, but what it actually says.
I don’t believe the hype / But you’re everything I’ve hoped for / I don’t believe the hype.
There, I mean right there, is where Bows comes to take form beyond Sutherland’s transition to bougie trip-hop as some critics deign. “King Deluxe” possesses this layered ambiguity, this seductive ruse of connection with Jørgensen. Well, is it seductive? The way she utters those words—half asleep and half aware, maybe even half dead—makes improbable a simple projection of yourself as you know it. When the sluggish drum pattern begins the song, moving from ear to ear like some pitchshifting wraith, you can barely make out her words. Just so you know / It was the first shot that did it / You could say it changed my life. She’s whispering, she’s trying not to wake you, but she’s also providing a truth. And I suppose / All your pose does is tease me / But there’s nowhere else to go / Cause you’re a starlet in the making / Yes you are, that’s why I’m waiting here. The bass drum kicks in like a heartbeat, the orchestral refrain becomes your lungs opening and closing. It’s here, when she lets her words slip for the ears of a newborn or a new lover, that you realize Bows is effectively Sutherland in love. Realize this and the new world Sutherland fashioned on Blush begins to take wondrous form.
I will cede to naysayers the album’s somewhat muffled personality, certain parts and whole songs like “Troy Polenta’s Big Break” coming off as though they were sung through a pillow. This isn’t Sutherland’s newest craft perfected, and for that I would recommend all to consider Cassidy, Bows’ sophomore effort. Yet the album’s musical adolescence isn’t an encumbrance. It’s a transitional necessity. Long Fin Killie was just hitting its stride and forming its signature with their final album and used the more delicate elements—compare even the strumming style to Valentino—as points to switch off. Still, I adduce that Blush’s strength is primarily tonal and not necessarily musical, for the former often conceals the latter’s green articulations.
The album’s importance is also somewhat epochal, seeing as how 1999 arguably began trip-hop’s unfortunate abeyance. Sutherland showed that even though he was just the new kid on the block, he was also well-traveled. A superficial observation would place the work towards the harder side of the trip-hop spectrum—e.g. Lamb’s first two albums or Everything But The Girl’s Walking Wounded—since Blush uses drum n’ bass and jungle at times (“Britannica” and “Girls Lips Glitter” being the most obvious examples), but that’s just a superficial observation. Each song is drawn out, the bass lines bending like hyperboles on songs such as “It’ll Be Halftime in England Soon” and the drums insouciantly punchy on others such as “Sleepyhead,” so as to give the illusion of overextension. All this is in addition to its ubiquitous employment of stringed instruments from violins to harpsichords.
People have cited an equal madness in love and hatred, an equal spirit aimed in two separate directions. The same man who said he was “sick of head case racist jibes, sick of deep-fried arteries” now asks, “when will I see you? I just want to breathe and feel you; all mine, all mine.” So on Blush Janus is looking towards the horizon, the orange and purple hues of a sunset. Lacking all malice, you can’t help but think he’s smiling and you can’t help but smile yourself.
By: Ayo Jegede
Published on: 2006-02-07