Elusive but Enticing: Blues Control, September 9 at Rozz-Tox Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 05:51

Blues Control

If you haven’t heard of the instrumental duo Blues Control, as an introduction let me try to describe the first two tracks from its Valley Tangents album, which was released in June.

“Love’s a Rondo” is a jazzy, piano-based tune with one of the keyboard lines often matched by a fuzzy guitar whose frayed edges serve as a gentle contrast. The rhythms are laid-back and slightly exotic, and there’s the feel of unhurried, purposeful improv.

“Iron Pigs” starts with beats followed by majestic, cheesy keyboards followed by scratchy, aggressive noise followed by a piano played on the left side. When it emerges, the lead guitar is expressive yet concise, and memories of that agitated opening quickly melt away.

The band will perform at Rozz-Tox on September 9, and, in an interview earlier this month, Lea Cho described its sound as “instrumental psych rock.”

That’s as brief a description as you’ll get, but it’s probably more instructive to repeat some of the more verbose attempts. TinyMixTapes.com wrote that Cho and Russ Waterhouse were “an anomaly to me for ages, and listening to their records only made things worse. Their particular mysticality is created with a deeply abstracted series of layers that end up feeling sublimely confounding alongside the various swoons and gritty feelings of transcendence ... .”

The Agit Reader was a bit more certain: “By combining homemade beats and samples via Walkman with kosmische guitar treatments and virtuoso piano melodies, they’ve tapped into a well of left-field textures and grooves teetering between mystical ambiance and raging psychedelic miasmas.”

The All Music Guide said that Blues Control is “nearly impossible to peg down – calling them an instrumental, new-age, post-rock, jazz-fusion duo doesn't exactly help ... . It’s clear on Valley Tangents that they do have a certain general approach to explore, just one that doesn’t welcome immediate simplification.”

Suffice it to say the band is elusive. “Love’s a Rondo” and “Iron Pigs” might employ wildly different textures but have a meaty, tangible substance that joins them. Yet they’re followed by the wispy smoke of “Opium Den/Fade to Blue,” strong with direct guitar and synthesizer melodies but still artfully vague with its dreamy percussion and guitar.

Cho said she doesn’t view the transitions as jarring. “Personally, when I listen to albums, I like to be surprised and stimulated ... ,” she said. “I like change. Maybe on the surface, they’re really different, but I don’t think that they’re any more different than two songs on a lot of old, classic records. I think maybe people, because there’s no vocals, feel like these songs are more different than they actually are. But if there were the same person singing over both, maybe it wouldn’t seem as different.”

Blues Control began in 2005, with Cho and Waterhouse setting aside their Watersports band moniker for a single show. Since then, Blues Control has become their primary musical outlet, although they said Watersports hasn’t been formally retired.

Despite a clear jazz influence on the band, both in the studio and live the arrangements are rigorous and planned – which is necessary given a setup that includes synthesizers and guitars but also backing tracks the duo has recorded on cassette.

The pair lived in New York for years, was based in Virginia for 2009, and operated out of Philadelphia in 2010. Last year, they settled in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley – a move that facilitated Valley Tangents in several ways.

On logistical and financial levels, they said, it was necessary to get out of urban areas. “It was more like having more space, not having to work as much as we did in New York,” Cho said. “It allowed us to work on music the way we wanted to. I feel like if we had stayed in New York, maybe we would not have made another record. We just needed to move in order to move forward. ... It was very distracting, it was too expensive, we had to work a lot in order to barely get by financially.”

“We wanted to prioritize our own music,” Waterhouse said.

As much as instrumental music has a subject, Valley Tangent’s is “an impressionist view of our life in rural PA,” Cho said – something you can hear in the pastoral warmth of “Walking Robin” and “Open Air.”

But Waterhouse stressed that the band’s aesthetic has not been altered by the change of locales: “It’s not like we moved here and then started listening to regional music, and that came out on the record.”

Blues Control will perform on Sunday, September 9, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue in Rock Island; RozzTox.com), with an opening act to be announced. The show starts at 7 p.m., and admission is $6.

Samples from Valley Tangents can be heard at DragCity.com/products/valley-tangents. For more information on the band visit Facebook.com/bluescontrol.