Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Album That Spawned The Spin-offs, Foiled By Blue October Still Rocks.

The Good: Generally good lyrics, Decent, independent sound
The Bad: There are more complete versions on the market.
The Basics: Holding up after - literally - at least fifty listens, Foiled is a smart rock and roll album that illustrates talent lyrically, vocally and in its instrumental accompaniment.

One of the nice things about being married for me has to be how I keep discovering new and different things and how my wife and I are able to share things we like with one another. In my case, because my wife moved from Michigan to live with me in Upstate New York, it has meant me being exposed to a great number of her musical artists and movies (they provide her with a sense of consistency and an emotional tether to where she came from and her past). One of the most-played new-to-me artists is Blue October and for the last year, my wife has had Foiled in pretty consistent rotation when I haven't dominated the c.d. player. And over the course of the year, I've come to truly enjoy the album.

At the same time, I am hesitant to overrate something because simple repetition has numbed me to it. As well, there are many alternate versions to Foiled and I have to imagine that there is some merit to them, so because my partner and I have been listening to the “bare bones” edition of the album, I do feel a little cheated. In addition to versions that have additional tracks, there are remix albums which include the basic disc with a whole bonus disc and I am actually hoping to get such a thing in hand for enjoyment and review soon. That said, Foiled has been the consistent rock and roll soundtrack of the past year of my life, through all my Artists Of The Month, when my wife and I have been driving around or hanging out, it is what she puts on. And it is decent rock and roll with a fairly masculine sound, even if many of the lyrics are not the stereotypical masculine ideal.

With a dozen songs occupying 53:56 on c.d., Foiled is very much the musical vision of Blue October. It is the album that spawned the mainstream hit “Hate Me,” which is presented in an extended version on the album. All of the songs are written by members of Blue October and they provide all of the primary vocals as well. The group plays their own instruments and I was surprised (because on Approaching Normal it was not the case) lead singer and head writer Justin Furstenfeld also is credited as a co-producer on the album. In other words, the members of the band have quite a bit of creative control over the sound on the album; this is very much the musical vision they had for their album.

And that vision is a generally hard rock sound that contrasts with surprisingly sensitive vocals and lyrics. As a result, Blue October sounds like no one else on Foiled and it becomes a welcome change from the hip-hop and country which have taken over Top 40 stations and the monotony of rockers past their heyday and new screamers who seem to dominate the rock and roll stations. Blue October is what pop-rock would be doing if the genre were still considered mainstream. It is musically rich and includes samples (the “Hey Justin!” that is looped and altered over the piano playing at the end of “Hate Me” is fairly innovative, if not incredibly musical), but is largely the work of musicians playing instruments as opposed to programmers mixing sounds on a board.

In that regard, Blue October is a quintet that mixes guitar, bass and drums with heavy keyboards/pianos on many songs. On “Let It Go,” they are quiet and melancholy with a strong sense of crushing ennui, in large part because of the muted guitars being drown out by deeper bass and pianos. But more than a typical keyboard-driven band, Blue October pushes the electric guitars on “Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek.” They balance them well on “Congratulations” and that's an excellent example of how the band has a musically rich sound which is not like anyone else creating music today (indeed, I have a hard time comparing them to anyone else I have ever heard). Unfortunately, those who have not heard Foiled before might well be put off by the guitar-heavy opening, “You Make Me Smile,” which sounds like very typical rock and roll.

Vocally, Foiled is powered mostly by the vocals of Justin Furstenfeld. The lead singer has a smooth voice which dominates each track, save “Congratulations.” On that song, he is accompanied by Imogen Heap (her album, Ellipse, was reviewed here!) and the feminine voice added to the mix shakes up the sound of the album well. Furstenfeld is generally articulate and the speed at which he delivers the lyrics on "Overweight" is actually impressive, especially that he makes the lyrics understood. The album is pretty consistently angst-filled and on Foiled, the song "Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek" is less the exception than the rule. "X Amounts Of Words," for example, has a more techno beat to it, but it is still connoting a sense of loss and emptiness in its lyrics, vocal presentation and the instrumentation than most pop-rock songs.

Lyrically, one of the most refreshing aspect of Foiled is that not all the best songs were the radio hits. Instead, the band takes its creative juices and invest them in creating an album which is diverse and packed with decent songs. While "Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek" may be dark and repetitive, it works so well because it is unsettling and lines like "I use a wallet for your mouth / So when you bite you will not bleed / I drilled a wire through my cheek / And let it down and out my sleeve" are universally disturbing. While I've never been a fan of songs that are screamed in front of electric guitars, that one works!

As well, the song "Congratulations" becomes one of the best breakup anthems in years and it is unsettling in a quieter, more melodic way. That has a very simple sense of poetry in its lines "My words they don't come out right / But I'll try to say I'm happy for you / I think I'm going to take that drive / I want to give you something / I've been wanting to give to you for years / My heart’s / My heart, my pain won't cover up / You left me. . ." ("Congratulations"). Still, anyone who has been abandoned and hurt can undoubtedly relate to the song and that gives it a strength most pop-rock songs today do not possess.

Generally, the album has a decent sense of poetics, even when it is repetitive. "Hate Me" is simple and repetitive, but it is decent because it expresses a strong emotion well. Similarly, the poetics of "I assemble all the sand that cover wedding beaches / To build a castle so your mom would have a place to stay / Behind the water slide and down the hill where heaven reaches / Land and time is left to float away (yeah) / So rest assured I have the key to every opening / To every wishing well that's deep enough to dream (dream) / I want to show you just how fascinating kissing is / When earth collides with all the space between (yeah)" ("Sound Of Pulling Heaven Down") possesses beautiful, if horrifying imagery. It is easy to hear why the band is so successful as a result.

But even after four years on the market, what is wonderful about Foiled is that it still sounds fresh and diverse and it is easy to listen to and enjoy. Anyone who likes rock and roll that is more than just a simple guitar, bass and drum band will find something to enjoy on "Foiled;" I'd even bet they would find a lot to enjoy.

The best song is "Congratulations," the low point is the less memorable "Let It Go."

For other male bands, please visit my reviews of:
Dig Out Your Soul - Oasis
A Rush Of Blood To The Head - Coldplay
By The Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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