It’s only in the last six months, thanks to the excellent Beyond the Redshift festival, that SonicAbuse learned of the wonderful Blueneck, despite the band having been around for some fourteen years. One of the UK’s best-kept secrets, at Beyond the Redshift, Blueneck played a set that defied simple description. The passion on display as the band wove their epic soundscapes was utterly captivating, the mesmerising and SonicAbuse, along with the hundreds of other people in attendance, left the venue with a profound respect for Blueneck.
With four albums to their name (all readily available on bandcamp), as well as a recent remix album, Blueneck have been quietly carving out a niche for themselves, exploring the world of post-rock and gaining some truly loyal fans in the process. Such loyalty can only be rewarded by the band’s latest opus, the wonderful ‘King nine’, released by Denovali, which finds the band gently tweaking and refining their sound to add a more powerful electronic undercurrent than upon previous releases with superlative effect. The result is a piece of music that forms the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t yet exist, very much in the vein of Ulver’s mesmerising masterpiece ‘Perdition city’, and whilst ‘King nine’ does not share that album’s grimy noir-ish sensibilities, it successfully captures the same imaginative leaps and the same sense of wonder that made that record so special.
In all honesty I’m not sure whether reviewing Blueneck is a treat or a challenge. There can only be so many superlatives crammed into a single review and having spent a good bit of time letting the album sink in, I’m no further along with how to craft this review than I was when I started. Blueneck albums in general are most directly comparable to a journey. The destination does not matter so much as the landscape you pass on the way, and Blueneck albums evoke memorable and powerful images. ‘King nine’ sees the band operating on a similar wavelength to Anathema’s latter-day flights of fancy, and it should be no surprise that the album opens with piano, synth and vocals, the song taking its time to open up and introduce the rhythmic pulse of the full band. This is gorgeous, progressive tinged pop music that, in all honesty, would soar into the charts if Radiohead were still flavour of the month, and the only reason that the band haven’t reached a far wider audience that I can fathom is that they have steadfastly refused to play the press game over the years, preferring to quietly make the music that moves them without the added burden of having to ‘maintain momentum’ or do any of those other things that record labels so frequently mistake for having an artistic career. Slowly bubbling to the surface, ‘Sirens’ emerges, blinking in the sunlight, with vocals to the fore and subtle synths phasing in and out of the mix. When percussion arrives it is the somnambulant percussion of A Perfect Circle and Ulver, augmented with electronic stabs and understated guitar work. The track slowly builds, and the guitars are eventually unleashed, but even here the emphasis is on elegant phrasing that is, arguably, the closest any band has come to matching mid-period Floyd in terms of portraying subtle mood shifts via music The title track has a downbeat Massive Attack feel to it and contains one of the few uses of auto-tune effects (outside of Folk Implosion) that doesn’t make you want to kill the singer. It’s clear that Blueneck, on this album, have unleashed the full power of the studio to get the sound they wanted, but it’s also clear that the band knew exactly what they wanted and not a single effect or quavering electronic beat is thrown in unnecessarily. It takes discipline to work around the studio in this way and not get carried away and the results are simply stunning.
Having reached an emotionally draining crescendo on the previous track, ‘man of lies’ opens on a shuffling beat and demonstrates the band’s powerful grasp of dynamics. Despite its relaxed tempo, the song feels somehow urgent nonetheless, and the guitar / synth interplay that develops at the song’s conclusion resists the temptation to simply blaze out under a welter of distortion, keeping the structure and sound varied. One of the most powerfully confessional songs on offer, ‘broken fingers’ is unutterably beautiful. Listen for yourself for description would scarcely do it justice. ‘Father, sister’ racks up the tempo a few notches with its driving synth beats and filtered vocals seemingly beamed in from another world. Like Low covering Depeche Mode via ‘the great destroyer’, the track sees the band employing traditional instrumentation and banks of synth in perfect harmony, and the result is never less than impressive. Slowing things down, the sombre ‘Spiderlegs’ is an organ-drenched moment of calm that slowly introduces rich banks of strings to heart-breaking effect. Not since Spiritualized’s ‘broken heart’ has a band recorded such a simple, effective and poignant piece of music and it brings the album to a standstill only for the damaged ‘mutatis’ to draw the listener back with its huge swathes of percussion and dramatic conclusion. The album closes with ‘anything other than breathing’, a song that recalls vintage Low with its echoing voice underpinned by a sparse musical arrangement. It’s a fitting end to the album and it leaves the listener with a glimmer of hope as, after all the darkness, the final sentiment is “I will be the better man, seems to me, I’m best alone, I’ll be breathing eternally”.
As I said at the outset, Blueneck were a revelation to me as little as six months ago. In the intervening months I have absorbed as much of their back catalogue as time has allowed and still nothing prepared me for ‘King nine’. The most remarkable element to the album is the way that the band have drawn upon their previous work to create a near perfect artistic statement. The epic crescendos, the sombre moments, the heartfelt lyrics and the outstanding musicianship all mark this out to be an album that is essential for those who love music as an artistic endeavour rather than a neatly packaged product. Elements of Low, Mogwai, Spiritualized and Pink Floyd are all present in the mix and, in a better world, you’d see Blueneck on the front of major music magazines everywhere. Put simply, ‘king nine’ is a beautiful, beautiful album that shimmers with grace and dignity. Few bands would be brave enough to expose their innermost feelings in this way and this record should be met with gratitude and respect. A slow-burning and quite wonderful piece of music, I would urge anyone who delights in music to seek this band out.