by Maximilien Luc Proctor
I first stumbled upon the work of Canadian rock outfit Blessed in 2017, somewhere in the recesses of bandcamp.com. I was immediately hooked, though dismayed by their modest output — nine songs across two EPs and a single. Then again, it wasn’t a bad track record for a band whose first single was only released the previous year. I included their second EP, II in my list of “5 Noteworthy Rock Albums of 2017,” noting that while both EPs showed potential, I was eager to see how they would handle a full-length release. In April, my curiosities were finally satisfied by the unveiling of Salt, a tense ride through unexpected turns and jagged edges. Every time a track starts to feel comforting, it veers into sonically unsettling territory. Every time the intensity ramps up, a new softening agent appears to keep you from losing your aural connection. The guitars, bass and drums constantly fit around rather than into one another, each piece picking at a different piece of the landscape. The rhythms are often angular, yet are layered so that each contributes to a satisfying whole. The opening track (“Rolled in Glass”) flows seamlessly into the second (“Thought”), before math rock stops give way to post-punk pummeling. Silky riffs cameo throughout. The album maintains a consistent flow from start to finish, despite the rocky terrain which peppers its path.
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MLP: Your bandcamp bio says “Blessed was born from a shared creative objective… Its original four members found themselves naturally amalgating elements of Post-Hardcore, Minimalism, New wave, Krautrock, and Punk.” Was the “shared creative objective” to blend those styles, or was it something else?
Drew Riekman: The term shared creative objective was more linked to the idea that prior to starting Blessed, everyone in the project had their own bands that they were fairly actively involved in. Some were pop punk, psych, garage rock, math rock, but at their core, had a stylistic element that wasn’t deviated from for the most part. When the idea of Blessed came together, the initial aim outside of touring, recording, and the general minutiae of a having a functioning band, was that there would be no creative limitations on what we could create. We have a rule that we abide by in writing, where if someone has an idea for the song, no matter how outlandish or off putting it may seem to other members, we have to learn the proposed part and try it out before concluding we don’t like it as a unit. It’s kept us in the habit of making sure no one’s ideas are turned away without being given proper due and provides us with a lens into avenues we didn’t think songs could take. Ideally, Blessed eventually builds a creative arc that nothing we release will be considered “surprising” to an outside observer.
Do you write lyrics together or alone? And did you take after any particular influences to develop your vocal style or was it based more around what came out naturally?
Lyrics is the only facet of the band that I take care of entirely. In terms of my singing; I have zero formal training and in my teens I mostly played in more aggressive/yelling style bands that I was the vocalist for. When we formed Blessed there was no longer the desire to have vocals in that trajectory, not because of a dislike or disregard of the genres that favour it, but more that it felt like a natural progression into the music we had all been enjoying as a group. There was no conscious decision in my singing style, and generally the method has been to take the music home and listen on headphones, and try and shift and shape the words I have to fit into the song, rather than writing our songs based around my words.
How did you end up deciding to get the album mastered in Berlin?
Calyx was a company we had used on a previous EP. Honestly the answer is a little trite and boring, but we honestly just admired the work they had done on other peoples albums and in the digital world it’s so easy to have your album worked on anywhere that you like.
The opening track, “Rolled in Glass” takes a few surprising turns; first a slightly menacing bass, then a tight beat kicks in with brief comforting melodic guitars for just a moment before we’re assaulted by a Jonny Greenwood-esque string staccato, which quickly turns semi-smooth again, albeit with an undercurrent of disquiet… and all this occurs in the first third of the track. How did you initially go about structuring the song, and how did you come up with that title?
“Rolled In Glass” was definitely one of the group’s favourite songs to sculpt. Blessed has never felt particularly tied to a certain structure or set of rules/conduct when piecing together songs. Lots of artists we take influence from have more free flowing and conceptual songs that feel more like movements than verses, choruses and bridges. A song, at the end of the day, is anything you want it to be. The song itself didn’t feel foreign or abstract to us when creating, it all just felt like the natural evolution of what those pieces of music wanted to do. The title is a direct reference to the last vocal line delivered in the song.
Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind the album cover and title?
I’d love to just share a direct quote from the artist (Nathan Levasseur) regarding the direction and path they took:
When I listen to Blessed what really stands out is the movement, whether structurally, tonally or atmospherically, the songs lurch and stretch. One moment is brimming with faith, the next rough and desolate. What is special about Blessed is that you cover so much ground and yet at the same time it feels like you have yet to make a mark.
The strength of the composition comes from the relationship between the cleaning products, the dinnerware and the setting. Like the song construction, nothing is straight-forward here. The color of the bottles is warm and inviting but not overly suggestive, the bowl, cup and knife are so normal, without context they become invisible. Nevertheless, the scene is complicated. I wanted to represent an incomplete moment. It could be quite dark, someone is consuming the cleaning products, or a more neutral reading, one might think of dishes. It becomes about the person’s relationship to the objects, which is obviously drastically different and complex. To summarize there is nothing explicit about a kitchen or cleaning bottle but we might feel happy when we see green or distraught by a knife because these objects remind us our experiences we’ve had in the world. I feel the similarly when I listen to Blessed.
This record in a lot of ways feels like an extension of the flower. Which was a play of ‘natural’ and ‘un-natural’. The ‘un-natural’ is represented through the plastic cleaning bottles, the sterile kitchen, steel, the poppy colors. The ‘natural’ is found more gesturally, the idea of consumption, eating, drinking and touch (smudge on the bowl).
Can you talk about how this album made the journey to release? Was there a lot of time between when you finished recording and when the album dropped? And how did you decide to go ahead and release it independently?
There was a lengthy gap of time between finishing tracking and the record coming out. The album’s tracking was completed in November 2017 and was mastered about midway through 2018. We spent a lot of time sitting with the album and not wanting to rush into any decisions. We talked with people that we were excited about/humbled by but we started asking ourselves what we wanted out of the record’s release. The band has spent almost it’s entire duration being self-directed; and managing all aspects of how we progressed and accomplished tasks we set out to achieve. After deliberation with all the members, we decided an independent release was a direction we wanted to try undertaking. If nothing else, the experience would feel liberating and moving forward, give us more empathy and understanding when working with people who do want a hand in helping release our music.
Salt is available to stream and download on bandcamp