Blue States: First Steps Into...

I can't tell, and would not wish to hazard a guess, as to whether this qualifies as a retrenchment or merely a return to form. Is there a difference?

Blue States

First Steps Into . . .

Label: Memphis Industries
US Release Date: 2007-08-13
UK Release Date: 2007-08-28

Blue States have never really come close to achieving any kind of critical mass, and that's a shame. The group -- centered around producer / mastermind Andy Dragazis -- started out back in the halcyon days of the late nineties, playing dreamy, atmospheric electronic music that seemed to split the difference nicely between the Cocteau Twins and DJ Shadow. It was a good time for that kind of post-trip-hop acid-jazz type stuff, but the fact that it was very much of its time meant that it was easily subsumed in the din. 2000's Nothing Changes Under the Sun was excellent, but unless you knew what to listen for you might have missed it altogether. (I only lucked out on account of the fact that I was working in college radio at the time, and a copy almost literally fell in my lap.)

Nothing Changes Under the Sun got a decent push from the Thievery Corporations's Eighteenth Street Lounge label, but remained significantly under the radar. Dragazis added personnel with the second album, 2002's Man Mountain, notably a female vocalist by the name of Tahita Bulmer -- she might just be familiar to you as the femme fatale behind the microphone for the New Young Pony Club. The group's third album, 2004's The Soundings, experimented with a more elaborate band set-up, featuring co-writing and vocal contributions from Chris Carr (who also played guitar). It was substantially more understated in effect than either of their previous albums, dialing back on the cinematic phrasings in favor of something a bit more intimate and restrained. It worked well, except on a handful of ballads. It was a change, even if it did at the time seem to be a conscious attempt to downplay their strengths.

Here we are, a few years later, and Blue States is back, again changed significantly from their earlier incarnation. Only now the new sound seems very similar to the old sound, the sound of their first two albums. I can't tell, and would not wish to hazard a guess, as to whether this qualifies as a retrenchment or merely a return to form. Is there a difference?

Since we last saw Dragazis, he's been pretty busy. He produced the debut album of a new girl group out of England called the Pipettes. Perhaps you've heard of them? Don't worry, First Steps Into... doesn't sound anything like the Pipettes. However, it's interesting, in light of the undeniably masterful anachronistic production work that lies near the heart of the Pipettes' appeal, just how firm a grip Dragazis keeps on Blue Step's mood and form. With a project like this, intangible mood is almost as important as songs or sound, and the mood is wonderfully consistent throughout. This sounds like, well, a lot of things, but it does so in such a way that is manages to create a marvelously distinctive mongrel identity: you've got a bit of late '60s psychedelia ("The Electric Compliment" even resurrects a Sgt. Pepper-esque string section), some very sedate funk (the wah-wah guitar on "First Steps... Last Stand"), and a strong sense of breakbeat-inflected rhythm throughout. The whole effect is, while certainly not wholly original, wholly engrossing, especially for those of us who remember how good Air used to be, before they became prog rockers.

This is a fine album, and it effectively maintains its gently melancholic, reflective mood for the whole of the 47-minute running time. Neither outstaying its welcome nor leaving before its time, it finishes with a sprightly grace note, the nostalgic one-two punch of "Writing Home" and "Last of Old England" -- tracks that yearn for the pastoral pleasures of rural England while remaining firmly planted in the essentially urban ethos of modern electronic music. Through it all, Dragazis manages to make it all look damnably effortless. Music this well-balanced and finely wrought requires a lot of work, and just as he made the Pipettes sound like a blast of fresh air dating back to 1966, so to does he make stately symphonic rock and roll sound positively cutting edge.


Director Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock helped to create the modern horror genre, the modern thriller, and the modern black comedy. He changed film, even as he was inventing new ways to approach it. Stay tuned through October as we present our collection of essays on the Master of Suspense.


'Psycho': The Mother of All Horrors

Psycho stands out not only for being one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, it is also one of his most influential. It has been a template and source material for an almost endless succession of later horror films, making it appropriate to identify it as the mother of all horror films.

Francesc Quilis

The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti (By the Book)

With discussions of characters like Leon Ray Livingston (a.k.a. "A-No. 1"), credited with consolidating the entire system of hobo communication in the 1910s, and Kathy Zuckerman, better known as the surf icon "Gidget", Susan A. Phillips' lavishly illustrated The City Beneath: A Century of Los Angeles Graffiti, excerpted here from Yale University Press, tells stories of small moments that collectively build into broad statements about power, memory, landscape, and history itself.

Susan A. Phillips

The 10 Best Indie Pop Albums of 2009

Indie pop in 2009 was about all young energy and autumnal melancholy, about the rush you feel when you first hear an exciting new band, and the bittersweet feeling you get when your favorite band calls it quits.

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2018 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.