Blunda - Messages
Release Date: January 7, 2014
Record Label: Unsigned
“Blunda” is not a name that is going to spark familiarity for a lot of listeners. Include the artist’s first name, Andy, and it does little to demystify who he is as an artist or what sort of contributions he’s made to the musical landscape over the past decade and a half. However, Blunda – whose latest EP, a lush and welcoming collection of songs called Messages, balances facets of Radiohead, Keane, Depeche Mode, and Cary Brothers into a thoroughly intoxicating cocktail of sound – is actually a guy who has been floating around the music industry since 1998 or 1999. He hooked up with Fastball – the 90s alt-rockers who landed on the charts back in the day with hit songs like “The Way” and “Out of My Head” – when he was only 20 years old, joining them as a touring keyboardist during the peak of their brief fame. He was also a part of an early-2000s rock band called Paloalto, which recorded two records under the tutelage of Rick Rubin. The band’s second and final record, 2003’s Heroes and Villains, even landed songs on a few major soundtracks, including films like Hellboy and The Perfect Score, as well as on the television mecca of early-2000s indie rock, Fox’s The OC.
It’s fitting that Blunda’s previous band almost hit it big thanks to The OC, because his new EP is absolutely in the vein of the music that was catching eyes and ears on primetime soap operas a decade ago. It’s mostly slow and plaintive, driven equally by Blunda’s melancholy drawl and by walls of synthesizers and effects. Call it Keane with calmer melodies and less emotive vocals, or Radiohead as fronted by Beck. In reality though, the comparison that most fits for Blunda is Cary Brothers, whose chilly, keyboard-driven Who You Are got its own kick from the “sensitive dude” movie/TV soundtrack movement when Zach Braff decided to put “Blue Eyes” in an episode of Scrubs and on the now-legendary Garden State soundtrack. For years, Brothers has traded in understated indie pop that really digs in when you listen to it on a long, solitary drive. The same is probably true for the songs on Messages, and since I’m a huge fan of Brothers, that’s not a bad thing at all.
Like Brothers, Blunda’s music doesn’t necessarily latch on right away. The synth-heavy orchestrations and drum machine rhythms – like on the foot-tapping 80s new wave bliss of “If You Want Me” – resonate right away, but Blunda’s melodies, on the other hand, aren’t quite as immediate. The falsetto line on “If You Want Me” is, again, probably the most memorable part of the record, filtered through a vocal effect that makes the song sound like a lost cut from LCD Soundsystem’s This is Happening. Other tunes come across as a bit more generic. The jangly guitar that kick starts the title track is promising, splitting the difference between Bowie and the Clash, but the vocal melodies are somewhat dull, with Blunda sounding more like a bored James Mercer (the Shins) than a hungry Joe Strummer. Luckily, a retro guitar solo redeems “Messages” and makes it an enjoyable track.
The haunting, spacey feel of “Devil Inside” and the expansively lush closer, “The Money Side,” both provide better showcases for Blunda’s serene vocal style than the title track, as does the exciting, laser synth-burst opening track that is “A Broken Case.” On the whole though, Messages is a solid, enjoyable, and promising set of songs that succeeds because it’s built around one absolute home run. The Unforgettable Fire-esque atmospherics of “A Broken Case” and the gorgeous OC-ready guitar tones that break through at the end of “The Money Side” are truly lovely, but nothing quite matches the throwback charm or pop sensibility of “If You Want Me.” Blunda may be extremely skilled at creating balladic soundscapes, but if this one song proves anything, it’s that he should be playing to his uptempo skills a bit more as well.