Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

White Blush beautifully walks the line between electronic pop and soundtrack music

January 14, 2013

whiteblush

I’ve always found myself pulled between two sides. I’m an editor/writer; I create technical writing and fiction; I have friends and family in the extreme liberal and extreme conservative camps. I span many distances, with the moderate center being my home. This goes for my taste in electronic music as well: I am thoroughly on board with electronic music, as long as it retains some sense of being remotely a pop song. I’m not into deep house trance and such, which is very definitely music but perhaps not actually a song. So I’m (surprise) on the fence about White Blush‘s self-titled EP, as it makes overtures toward being both a project that creates discrete song-style entities and one that creates free-flowing music.

Carol Rhyu is the mastermind behind the project, and she creates a lush, dusky environment on the EP. This is best shown on “Jolene,” where a mechanical, post-Portishead beat is filled out melodically by all manner of synths and Rhyu’s cooing vocals. The environment could be called dark (it’s certainly not a summery song), but there’s no malice in the tune. It simply puts forward a distinctive mood evocative of night and develops it in a song-style structure, pulling together repeated parts into a semblance of verse/chorus/verse. “808 Myst,” on the other hand, is a soundtrack-style piece reminiscent of its title reference. It’s not bad at all, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I can’t hum it, nor recognize it as a discrete entity.

So it’s good for me that Rhyu skews more toward the pop end of the spectrum. “Mirror” starts off with a bouncy bassline reminiscent of goth rock, but layers Rhyu’s tentative, reverb-laden vocals over it for a nice tension. Even though the song doesn’t have a chorus to speak of, it’s still treated more like a pop tune in that she sings directly instead of treating her voice as another instrument in the mix. It ends up sounding a bit like Braids’ work, which is another band that treats pop music structures as things to be morphed and challenged in odd ways without losing their essential nature. (This is not the case with “Tru Luv,” which takes a similarly bouncy bass line and slowly builds in into an instrumental piece complete with distant cooing.)

Not being an expert in electronic music, I don’t know all the right and proper names for the genre or genres that White Blush falls into. I can say with definition, though, that Carol Rhyu can make an absolutely gorgeous song when she wants to, whether it’s in a pop idiom or not. “Jolene” is a fabulous song, one that only gets more interesting with time. And that’s the best sort of pop song.

Quick Hits: Ben Fisher / White Blush

July 29, 2012

Ben Fisher‘s Roanoke EP comes on the heels of his 2011 debut album Heavy Boots and Underwoods. The latter showed flashes of brilliance and foreshadowed a bright future for folk-singer Fisher; Roanoke is where he starts to build on that foundation. Since The Tallest Man on Earth’s nasally voice is a high price of entry, opener “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” becomes instantly likable by aping Kristian Matsson’s carefree strum and pairing it with Fisher’s low voice. “Dublin Blues Pt. 2” puts some forlorn but interesting lyrics into a country mold, with good results. But it’s “Hibernation” that sticks with me, as the gently fingerpicked tune sounds like a calmed-down Tallest Man in both the vocals and the guitar. The melodic flourishes that fill it out give a sense of Josh Ritter-esque gravitas, while not feeling too much like a Ritter tune. The title track is a high-desert tune with pedal steel, shakers and a wide-open feel; “To Conclude…” is a quiet strummer, but the vocals push a little hard against the gentle track.

That push and pull between gentle and intense is where Fisher lives on this EP (his bio says that he “tends to bellow”), but he doesn’t turn gentle songs into roars (like Damien Rice) or speed them way up (The Tallest Man on Earth). Instead, he fills his gentle performances with a confident energy. It’s a tough thing to explain, but that’s why it’s great: it sets Fisher apart. I’m looking forward to more tunes from Fisher, as Roanoke is a satisfying chapter in Fisher’s songwriting that points towards more good in the future.

White Blush‘s bedroom electronica is of the claustrophobic, moody and sparse type. I’m not too familiar with the genre, but I checked it out due to the Portishead connections I heard in the sound. Carol Rhyu’s music is much more mellow and free-flowing than Portishead’s lock-step trip-hop, but both share the ability to traverse in dark sounds without sounding particularly evil or sad. They just like hanging out in the nighttime, it seems. “Without You” builds from some fragmented melodic elements into a swirling, pensive tune. “808 Myst” is an eerie sort of chiptune piece that traffics in the same moody vein as “Without You,” while “Wait” is a stark tune that strips her sound down to vocals, a casio and soft rhythmic thumps. It’s oddly intriguing, just as the other two tunes. White Blush has delivered three beautiful tunes here; fans of ambient or other quiet electro would really enjoy this.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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