Blues Control’s work is sharply divided between their live performances and their recorded output. As a live band, they're keenly focused on distorted blues, reverb-drenched string bends, and smeared, elastic pentatonic runs layered over a bed of scattered piano chords and dub-like drum machines. The band can be both quite heavy, with Russ Waterhouse’s affected guitar weaving beguiling lines over Lea Cho’s murky grooves, and quite light, as the music’s key elements remain distinguishable within the lingering sonic ephemera. This novel blues-drone is anchored effortlessly by a deeper-than-dub pulse emitted from a submerged drum machine.
Unfortunately, Blues Control are not satisfied with producing a full-length studio version of their live show. Their recorded output has been characterized by an appetite to experiment with a wide variety of styles, and Local Flavor is no exception. However, the success of these explorations is inversely proportional to the distance Blues Control moves away from their live sound. Take "Good Morning," the first track on Local Flavor: this song so strongly resembles a typical Siltbreeze release — dry production, off-kilter percussion, and crunching guitar — that its inclusion on the album is curious. "Good Morning" replaces, rather than expands, Blues Control’s sound, and it doesn’t function as a particularly invigorating genre exercise, either.
The following track, "Rest on Water," is an improvement, because the band’s signature piano sound is retained and developed patiently into a floating ambient interlude. Although the track is somewhat prolonged, considering that the bulk of its ideas are introduced within the first two minutes, it serviceably functions as a transition into "Tangier"'s interesting motorik thrust. Again, this track satisfies to a point, largely because there is a basis in Blues Control’s aesthetic. The drum machine chugs along, buffeted by jittery piano stabs and small synth squiggles. Yet where Kraftwerk and Neu! traveled swiftly along an Autobahn-inspired “endless highway,” Blues Control’s rendition is hampered by their shortcomings as drum programmers. The beats are static, simple, dry, and boring, altogether failing to provide enough depth. In traditional Krautrock, a propulsive motor is essential to produce the fast-moving, futurist thrill for which the genre is known. Consequently, the band’s synthesis fails through a lack of the necessary rhythmic elements.
"On Through the Night," Local Flavor’s finale, thankfully concludes the album with the most straightforward stretch of typical Blues Control sound. While the first three tracks suffer from a lack of dynamism, with much of the sound muffled and trapped in the center of the speaker array, "On Through the Night" drops the drums in the mix, adds needed reverb and bass depth, and presents a more expansive canvas for the key moments. Waterhouse is more lyrical, gradually building intensity in his lines through repetition and smart placement of phrasing. His confident note-picking glides over Cho’s churning vortex of ambiguous keys, a disintegrated blend of distended ragtime and glitter.
Local Flavor is the product of a band trying out several different sounds. Unfortunately, Blues Control do not adhere to a cohesive stylistic core that emphasizes their strengths when the band ventures into new genres. The less the album strays from their established live sound, the more powerful it becomes. Perhaps succeeding albums will see the band heading in new directions without sacrificing their strong live aesthetic.
1. Good Morning
2. Rest on Water
4. On Through the Night