Blue Man Group's Latest Album Shows 'Astounding Level of Musicianship'

Plus, get reviews of offerings Lush, Guided By Voices, and more.

— -- intro: There were albums released this week by artists other than Beyonce. Celebrated U.K. rock act Lush break a 20-year silence with their new EP, indie-rocker Robert Pollard re-ignites the Guided By Voices name, Blue Man Group releases their third proper studio album, Seattle band Candlebox returns and we get Lyle Workman’s score to the Netflix show, “Love.” Interestingly, two of this week’s offerings are largely instrumental, which I suppose makes this a pretty unusual set of reviews.

quicklist: 1 title: Lush’s “Blind Spot” EP **** text: Lush’s “Blind Spot” EP is the band’s first release in 20 years. The group disbanded after 1996’s “Lovelife,” following the suicide of drummer Chris Acland. Thankfully, late last year they jumped back into action with members Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King, now joined by Elastica’s Justin Welch on drums.

Two decades have passed and yet “Blind Spot” delivers in its quick four-song span what you would expect. Berenyi and Anderson still lead with assurance and while these tracks are more somber than previous singles like “Ladykillers,” “Single Girl” and “Hypocrite,” they still pack a shoegaze-y/dream-pop punch. There’s an understandable sense of melancholy here for much of the set but at the same time, this is very much the band you remember. Like My Bloody Valentine did a few years back with their “mbv” album, Lush, with this brief offering, have picked up where they left off.

“Out Of Control” sways like a dreamy waltz, “Lost Boy” has a haunted sadness, “Burnham Beeches” has a nostalgic sunniness and “Rosebud” seems like it is packed with tightly orchestrated drama.

“Blind Spot” hits the restart button for Lush and it provides a mannered but no less triumphant return for a band that was greatly missed. Two decades after tragedy ripped them apart, it’s nice to see this band back together. Let’s hope all goes well with their current live shows and that we eventually get a new full-length offering.

Focus Tracks:

“Out Of Control” As if built from a dream-pop manual, the way this song progresses fits perfectly within the conventions of the sub-genre and yet it plays like a welcoming lullaby. This song is soothing and beautiful and yet at the same time it is quite melodic.

“Burnham Beeches” More than anything Lush has ever recorded, this song actually sounds very much like something Ivy would have put on their album “Apartment Life.” There’s an exuberance to this song that isn’t present on the other songs here. It’s the set’s brightest offering.

quicklist: 2 title: Guided By Voices’ “Please Be Honest” *** text: It was only two years ago that Robert Pollard dismantled Guided By Voices for the second time over a long, storied 30-year career as lo-fi rock icons. After first dissolving in 2004, the original line-up was resurrected in 2012 and over the next two years, they released six albums and an EP. Not bad. But Pollard has always been shockingly prolific.

After 2014’s “Cool Planet,” Pollard continued to release albums under his new Ricked Wicky moniker until he began recording “Please Be Honest” and felt like it had a GBV feel. In all truth, this is a pretty much a Pollard solo album, but anyone familiar with his work knows that just about all of it has the same ragged charm. So the Guided By Voices name is reborn with “Please Be Honest.”

Here are 15 songs in just over 33 minutes. Tracks like “My Zodiac Companion” and “Glittering Parliaments” show a vintage GBV sensibility. This is an album full of experimentation. The ending of “The Grasshopper Eaters,” for instance, with its stray banging sounds will either test or thrill you. This album is full of such polarizing moments. Oddities like “Sad Baby Eyes” are all around, but these strange bits have always been part of the equation.

While this album isn’t the unmistakable high point that was offered with 2014’s “Motivational Jumpsuit,” it still packs enough power to keep the legacy going. In all truth, all of Pollard’s records should probably carry the Guided By Voices name.

Focus Tracks:

“Glittering Parliaments” This is a GBV gem in the most analog sense. It feels like it was recorded in a garage on an old 4-track and it probably was, but there is something nice about the idea of Pollard in his late 50s still exploring and recording music with the same kind of raw experimental way he probably did in his 20s and 30s.

“The Quickers Arrive” This is just Pollard singing over a solo guitar-riff, and it is raw and fuzzy, but again, it has a warm, home-made feel.

“I Think A Telescope” This song and this album in general both balance a tightly-wound intensity with a noticeable sparseness.

quicklist: 3 title: Blue Man Group’s “Three” ***1/2 text: In case you can’t tell, Blue Man Group’s “Three” is the performance troupe's third studio offering following 1999’s “Audio” and 2003’s guest-packed “Complex.” While this album doesn’t have the bare-bones, awe-striking quality of the first or the seamless star-power of the second, it still offers the kind of artful instrumental jams that you’d expect if you are familiar with the group.

I probably don’t have to tell you that this is a heavily percussive record and that deep syncopation is aided by woozy electronics, washes of guitar and an industrial presence. Since this album is mostly instrumental and on the moody, atmospheric side, it may not be for everyone but as on their other two studio offerings the Blue Men show themselves to be gifted musicians. Occasionally, you get some scratched out vocal snippets like on the epic “3 To 1,” or a bit of narration, like on the excellent Dorothy McMillan-assisted “Robots,” but this is really a spacy prog-rock workout made by people playing various pipes, drum-machines, synths and guitars.

If you are wondering if the magic of Blue Man Group can be felt without the live spectacle in front of you, I say that you should put this album on in your house, turn off all your lights except for a lava lamp (or another neon-hued form of lighting) turn this up and let it wash over you. At its peaks it shows an astounding level of musicianship. Essentially, this album offers what you would expect from Tobias Fünke’s favorite “support group.”

Focus Tracks:

“Robots” (Featuring Dorothy McMillan) This spaced-out narrative about robots and being turned into “meaningless space dust” should tell you just about everything you need to know about Blue Man Group. It’s hard to tell if the future they see is a dystopian one or just some sort of playful sci-fi vision, but nevertheless, this proves to be the most essential and gripping track on this collection.

“Cimbalom 9” This ear-catching, moody instrumental goes to cinematic levels, journeying through its nearly five-minute time span with a charging beat that comes and goes and one of the strongest melodic backbones on the set.

“Torus” This extended, building groove ends the record and will be a standout to just about any Blue Man Group fan.

quicklist: 4 title: Candlebox’s “Disappearing In Airports” **1/2 text: For those people who don’t remember the nineties clearly, Candlebox are a Seattle band who rose to fame in 1993 with the alt-rock hits “You” and “Far Behind.” If you didn’t listen to them beyond their self-titled first record and its 1995 follow-up, “Lucy,” you need to know that the group disbanded after 1998’s “Happy Pills” only to reform for “Into The Sun,” a decade later. Now, “Disappearing In Airports” is the band’s first album in four years.

The grunge element of their music is mostly stripped away. Lead singer Kevin Martin now often sounds like he’s trying to fuse the sounds of post-peak Ed Kowalczyk-era Live with a touch of Train. The opener, “Only Because Of You,” begins decently with tons of possibilities, but then when the chorus kicks in, it becomes faceless “mainstream” rock. “Vexatious” shows promise and then does the same thing. It’s like the verse sections are trying to recreate the intensity of “You,” while somehow some influence of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” somehow worked its way into the mix.

The band is still tight, which is good, but the material just isn’t that strong. The verse section of “Supernova,” with its repeating of the word “Momma” is laughable, but things improve with the gun-control-minded, “I’ve Got A Gun,” which shows some much-needed drive. The band picks up the pace on the album’s harder back-end with tracks “Crazy” and “God’s Gift,” but they don’t distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.

At this point Candlebox are veterans of the Seattle scene. Keep in mind that since 1997 they have featured Pearl Jam’s “Ten”-era drummer Dave Krusen behind the kit. This album just seems kind of bland. They can make a better record.

Focus Tracks:

“Spotlights” This song almost recalls the vibe of “Cover Me” from their debut. This ballad almost hits an effective middle-ground between their old and new sounds.

“I’ve Got A Gun” Written in response to school shootings with gun-sensibility in mind, this track is sure to incite some conversations on all sides of the issue.

quicklist: 5 title: Lyle Workman’s “Love: A Netflix Original Series Soundtrack” (Deluxe Edition) **** text: First off, if you are a fan of the Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust-starring dramedy “Love,” currently streaming on Netflix, this album is Lyle Workman’s score. If you are looking for songs from iconic scenes from its first season, like for instance Pete Townshend’s cover of The English Beat’s classic “Save It For Later,” you won’t find it here. What you will find is 25 well-crafted instrumental cuts. Workman spent time as part of Frank Black’s band and he also is known for scoring such films as “Superbad” and “Win Win.”

With the “Love ” score, he somehow volleys from sludgy rock that isn’t afraid to also use synths (see the title-theme) and Latin-tinged numbers like the glorious “Sonrisa.” These songs go by rather quickly but never lose momentum. That being said, a 38-second snippet like “What If I Do Amazing?” has more musical fortitude than some bands can summon in five minutes. “Fanarlito’s Way” has a dreamy quality, whereas “We’re Not Dead Yet” surges with raw rock power.

If you are the kind of listener who likes scores and if you are a fan of “Love,” this record sets a pretty high bar. These tracks were often hidden in the background, but they definitely have their own unique vibe that effectively mirrors the quirky, off-beat nature of the show.

This album is also a lesson for any fan of television. The role of score music is a more important part of the process than some casual viewers may assume.

Focus Tracks:

“Long Love” This is just the full-length version of the show’s theme with all of its hard-charging textural shifts.

“Sonrisa” Any way you slice it, this track has an excellent samba-like energy. The flute solo is an added bonus.

“Spinning Out” This is a gorgeous, solemn bit of indie-rock guitar with some synth accents. In the last 30 seconds, the track takes an interesting minor-key turn.

Next Week: Prince’s final album of his lifetime gets a wide release plus new albums from Rogue Wave and more.

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