You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover? Well, if you substitute the word “book” with “album” and look at the overwrought vanity pose of Toronto singer-songwriter Blake Bliss on the front of his latest album, Friend, Enemy, Stranger, you can pretty much judge the music based on that portrait. I want to be charitable. The album isn’t completely awful. However, it’s nearly 50 minutes of Bliss’s feminine voice and an acoustic guitar, and its running time can make this LP rather hard to listen to. Also working against the singer’s favour is the fact that the lyrics are the type of emo confessional stuff that teenagers would pen in angst in their diaries. I would normally go so far to say that this record, with its images of death and suicide, is the type of music for cutters, but Bliss has come out on YouTube saying that he did engage in acts of self-mutilation, so I don’t want to make light of this artist’s past and pain. Still, 14 variations of the same thing make for a pretty terrible listening experience. There is the odd decent song here and there — I took a hankering to “My Love” as it is hummable — but, unfortunately, there’s way more dross than bright spots.
If there’s anything positive to say about this release, it comes in the form of the interesting story about the artist’s label. Standby, with this album, has launched an imprint called Standby Storytellers that focuses on poetry, painting, books and other artistic expression as well as music. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this subsidiary, products-wise. Thus, you can like the concept behind Bliss’s record, but, unfortunately, the music is hardly passable, which is strange. If you were launching something new, wouldn’t you want to release something of high quality to get pent-up demand for your offerings? Friend, Enemy, Stranger is so distraught and, I hate to say it, silly in its studied seriousness, that it’s what people might kick around as the punchline to a perverse joke. There’s no doubt that Bliss can play the guitar even if his singing voice may be an acquired taste. His lyrics are so tormented that they virtually trivialize true pain. So there’s that: he can strum. However, there’s not much to offer beyond that. Basically, if you’re a confused teenager grappling with your emotions and you paint your nails black, you will like and appreciate this record. Everyone else? Um. Ah. Eh. Gawd. Uh, give it a wide berth.