Release Date: Jun 19, 2012
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
For a long time I missed the inherent pun in Blues Control’s name. Until two weeks ago, I’d thought that their shifty sounding moniker was a reference to their sound: they wanted to tame those wild, wild blues, their gloomy bedroom pyschedelia being reflective of this misconstrued aim. Then, halfway through the opening track to Valley Tangents, the sprawling spaghetti western chords of ‘Love’s A Rondo’ gave me an ephiphany: Blues Control are a band who care little for haste.
Blues Control's continuing transmogrification into a band that's nearly impossible to peg down -- calling them an instrumental, new age, post-rock, jazz fusion duo doesn't exactly help -- progresses further on Valley Tangents, their excellent 2012 release. For all their various impulses, it's clear on Valley Tangents that they do have a certain general approach to explore, just one that doesn't welcome immediate simplification. "Love's a Rondo" feels like a gentle fusion jam from the late '70s with a hint of an unsettled edge -- it's more formal than improvisational, but the combination of piano and keyboard soloing, as well as a slightly rougher and zoned guitar over the core melody and rhythm, works in a kind of serene swirl.
Over the course of seven years and five LPs (as well as a couple of singles and a handful of cassettes), the Philadelphia-based duo of Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse have built their own extraordinary soundworld out of very minimal means. A cheap electric guitar, electric piano and synthesizers, percussion, and pedals and loops are the basis of Blues Control’s palette, but their vision expresses both concision and a broad-minded approach that brings with it ambient music, dub, breezy analog electronics, homemade/amateurish jazz improvisation, and lilting classicism. Valley Tangents is their latest LP, following last year’s FRKWYS collaboration with zither musician Laraaji (Edward Larry Gordon), and, continuing a penchant for label-hopping, it’s their first for Drag City.
To say that Blues Control make exactly the music the duo wants to make seems at first a mere tautology. Don't all bands make the music they want to make? Isn't that a-- if not the-- purpose of being in a band, to produce the sound you want to hear in the world? To an extent, sure it is, but most acts operate within clear aesthetic parameters, stylistic constructs that give them direction, classification, and a targetable market. But aside from several broad qualifiers, very little unites the works of Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho, either in their previous electronic entropy act Watersports or pan-everything pairing Blues Control.
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.
There's a joke on The Simpsons - an underrated one; hear me out here - where Marge is considering teaching piano to make some quick cash, and reasoning that her lack of ability needn't matter as long as she can "stay one step ahead of the kid". It came briefly to mind while I listened to Valley Tangents, the fourth full album by Blues Control. Not because their piano parts are amateurish, although the cocktail-bar jazz puzzlement is imbued with a healthy whack of pub-rock crudity.