Karl Blau shares some of his ideas about musical arrangement and vocal approach with Phil Elvrum, but he's his own man on Beneath Waves
, and the variety of sounds and songs he has created here is more than enough to prove that he possesses considerable talent.
While the Elvrum echoes make sense, given that Blau has worked with him in both D+ and The Microphones, Blau's Will Oldhamesque vocal style and piano riff on opener "Crashing Waves" are kind of a surprise. Of course, you'll have to get over that surprise pretty quickly, because none of the other songs on Beneath share those Bonnie tendencies. "My Johnny", for instance, is a weird little ditty highlighted by staccato piano and horn riffs, and underpinned by an ultra-simple electric guitar line. "Dragon Song" kicks off in high gear, just Blau's voice and a strident electric guitar; eventually, flutes and drums begin to tinker with the structure's simplicity, and together they build something eerie.
After those three songs, the hits keep on coming. "Slow Down Joe"'s driving riffery is juxtaposed oddly but interestingly with the sweet delicacy of its vocal delivery, as well as with the lyrical tone: "Let's rest in the harbor / with the calmness of the bay and the smell of the driftwood / We could park up on the hill / let's look down on the town." "Into the Nada" is, perhaps, the quirkiest song on an album full of quirky songs, shifting from a rather tuneless riff to a barely-there reggae tune -- snare hits trip in and out, the bass line is buried, horns mass and disappear, and Blau sings a pretty, pretty tune over the whole thing.
"Nada" may well be worth the disc's asking price on its own. But wait! There's more! "Notion" is a solid rocker. "Ode to Ocean" is a laid-back summery breeze that swells to an urgent chorus. For "Ode to Demons", Blau musters an almost Nick Drake-like vocal mumble, accompanied by a hollow, arpeggiated guitar and punctuated by a slide solo. After a questionable spoken-word start, "Shadow" turns into an introspective journey, accompanied by gentle organ tones and well-placed flutes. Beneath Waves ends with a truly strange, almost formless drift through "The Dark, Magical Sea."
While not every song will appeal to every listener's taste, Beneath Waves can be an extremely powerful listening experience. This strong, varied, uncompromising record will make a perfect soundtrack for your next bout of introspection.