[11 October 2009]
Guy Blakeslee is no stranger to the scene he’s approaching heavy-handed. Since the age of 21, he has been releasing psychedelic music based largely on public-domain blues and embracing the tail end of the illustrious, ill-defined freak folk movement. After spending time honing his craft in Chicago under the name Entrance, putting out releases on Fat Possum and Tiger City, he has gained the attention of a number of his musical adversaries – namely Thurston Moore, who was so enamored with Blakeslee that he brought him onto Ecstatic Peace. In order for the big step up under Moore’s umbrella, he took the transitional step musically and converted his solo explorations into a cosmic journey of the power trio.
However, there is a problem that lies within. The majority of Blakeslee’s audience is going to pick up this record and be essentially confused. Instead of the stripped-down dark, primal stomp-drenched blues present on Prayer of Death, Blakeslee’s last effort, they are going to get a dose of insanely polished power-pop psychedelia. Depending on who you are, this could be a record worthy of feeding your need for or an effort worthy of screaming into your pillow in frustration. We’ll go ahead and call it right down the middle.
Where The Entrance Band succeeds in one fashion, it fails quite miserably in the other. First off, kudos to Blakeslee for picking up one of new-psychedelia’s greatest rhythm sections: Paz Lenchantin, formerly of Queens of the Stone Age (how many ex-members does that band have?) and Zwan, and drummer Derek W. James. Both contributed to Prayer but were picked up to add the word “band” onto Entrance. On the other hand, leave the cryin’ blues lyricism at home, and leave that to those who experienced the tough turf first-hand. “M.L.K.” is a cringe-worthy, pseudo-political commentary that makes Neil Young’s later political efforts look like sheer brilliance. “Hey there’s a reason I sing / because I want to hear freedom ring / I’ll remind you all of one more thing / remember Martin Luther King”, is an obvious inclination that the guitar riffage came first, and what followed suit was a lackluster effort to “keep his dream alive.” Sorry Blakeslee, leave this to the pros.
On the other hand, “Still Be There” is the kind of noise that should be gracing our modern rock radio stations. With the proper lush polish of producer Nadav Eisenman and a loosely constructed guitar sheen lying atop the tightly disciplined groove of Lenchantin and James, this track is exactly what draws the line between the new advocates and the diabolical haters. It can be argued that the raw power blues of his previous efforts has been lost, but more importantly, this is Blakeslee leaving his niche and following in the footsteps of bigger powers. Instead of finding his passion behind the hipster-cred worthy likes of Robert Johnson and T. Rex, Blakeslee is finding his passion in the elements of rocks superhero studs: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Edge, and any other blues rock god who defined a sound in their respective era. While many say that this has been played out, one must argue, hasn’t the lo-fi white boy blues been just as commoditized as any guitar god out there?
Sadly, the vast majority of the band’s self-titled debut doesn’t live up to the promise “Still Be There” put forth just three tracks into the record. Instead, Blakeslee finds himself torn across the aforementioned line of mainstream opus and neo-psychedelia territory. Songs like “Grim Reaper Blues” and “You’re So Fine” come off as manufactured and soulless, full of moments where it seems like Blakeslee himself doesn’t know where the song is going.
Instead of avoiding it, Blakeslee needs to embrace the pop hook. The Entrance Band could garner attention from the same legion of fans as the Black Keys or the Dead Weather, but instead Blakeslee is trying to stay true to a sound that doesn’t fit his current situation. As a solo artist, he can reach out into this kitschy territory, but with this massive power trio, there is much more potential for substantial success without compromising any kind of artistic integrity. That is, if he embraces his influences, starts becoming more comprehensively in tune with his band, and draws the line clearly between this and his solo work.