Redfearn continues to push his music in new ways, but this time he may have pushed too far.
If there's one thing to be said about Alec K. Redfearn, it is that he doesn't sit still for very long. He's been cranking out records and singles under various monikers for years now at a pace Bob Pollard surely recognizes. Unlike Bob, though, Redfearn tends to push his music in more organic ways, and the changes from album to album are both vast and impressive. His latest release with the Eyesores, The Blind Spot finds Redfearn's music at its most grand and orchestrated, with his signature accordion still shouldering a good deal of the work. However, his push for evolution might have finally stumbled.
It may seem contradictory to applaud an artist for experimentation, and then criticize the results, but it seems particularly appropriate for albums like The Blind Spot where there are small moments where Redfearn seems to have nailed a new sound. And these highlights are made all the more glaring by the pomp and fluff floating around them. "Queen of the Wires" is probably the best track here, aided nicely by vocal harmonies arranged by Marissa Nadler. If Redfearn has dealt with Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons during his career (he has), this song will do little to quell them. It is a faint, essentially folk-driven tune about a dead girl. Nevermind that the girl's name is Bettina (a very Mangumian name), but it also butts lilting strings and slow-bounce drums against a macabre scene which finds our narrator's admiration of Bettina ending in her death and his hanging. Redfearn manages to take a page from the Blues book here, building the song on repetition, letting the stilted delivery of lyrics pluck over the smooth strings and percussion. The chorus elevates a little, with Nadler's vocal harmonies rising with the emotion, but the song never loses its restraint, which makes it all the more haunting in the end.
This song is followed, however, by "Myra", another song about a dead girl. This girl seems to have been dead at song's start, but that slim difference in subject does little to distinguish this song from its predecessor, as it also seems to keep the same waltz pushing on. After this track, the album takes a decidedly bizarre turn. The last eight tracks are devoted to a song cycle entitled "I am the Resurrection and the Light".
The inclusion of this song cycle, after three apparently unrelated tracks, sheds light on the major structural problems on this album. Redfearn clearly spent a good deal of time arranging all the strings and accordions and voices that haunt these songs, but somewhere along the line the big picture was lost. Aside from a section of the cycle entitled "Flesh of the Drum", which holds tension much in the way "Queen of the Wires" did, and manages to inject a bit of life into "I am the Resurrection...", these last eight tracks are uneven and, often, barely there. Songs like "The Burning Hand" and "The Blind Spot" lack the strong (or at least existent) percussion that drove Redfearn's earlier work along. He has always been one to set an elaborate table for his musical feasts, but on The Blind Spot, Redfearn brought his arrangements but forgot a table to set them on.
Even more problematic are the noisy bridges that appear sporadically between tracks on the album. They are, apparently, supposed to set up a juxtaposition between their clamber and the gossamer of the songs themselves. But instead they make the songs in between the noise seem all the more precious and flimsy. And the noise experiments themselves are nothing new, content to drone and swirl in ways we've all heard before. The album, and the song cycle, ends on "Blue on White (reprise)", which starts as a harmless stringed reminder of the song cycle's beginning before it falls into a noise collage as irritating as it is long.
There is an ambition to this album that seems self-imposed, but in a pretty inorganic way. The Blind Spot is the sound of an artist who tries it all at once, perhaps because he's worried that, after so much output, he's starting to run out of stuff. There is evidence here that he isn't, but unfortunately there is an awful lot of pretension to sift out before you find those couple of nuggets.