Hard to believe it’s been four years since Santa Fe multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Dylan Blanchard put out his debut 7-inch single A Ghost in Arroyo Hondo through local label Matron Records, but them’s the breaks when we’ve all lived through some of the absolute worst fucking years on record, and Blanchard knows it. He still gets kind of sad, too, though he’s the first to admit that he’s “a relatively happy guy with a lucky life.”
Even so, sometimes people feel empty—it’s called depression, friends—and those feelings just so happen to be behind most kickass songs across time. To put it another way, “Walkin’ on Sunshine” is all well and good, but wouldn’t we rather get into some serious wallowing with old Get Up Kids, some of those crushing Billie Holiday tunes or, like, pretty much the entire Radiohead catalogue?
Of course, Blanchard doesn’t particularly sound like any of these things on his new full-length, ...kind of a bummer, out now, also on Matron Records. Then again, they’re not too far from the nuts and bolts of what he’s laying down. Blanchard, for example, has very publicly espoused a love for the Midwest emo of the mid-to-late ‘90s and early aughts, and don’t even get me started on the symphonic piano buildup from album opener “Meaninglessness.”
Actually, do get me started, because it’s a bit of a banger. In my anxiety-addled brain, I can draw comparisons between Blanchard’s balladry to that of once-powerful songwriter Billy Corgan’s 88-key intro and outtro from Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 alterna-rock masterpiece (yeah, masterpiece) Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Here, though, rather than a reverb-laden ultra-pro studio, plus the kind of bucks that keep bands experimenting in such spaces for ages, Blanchard has adopted a spartan and nomadic recording process: Some tracks were recorded with local sound wunerkind Kabby Kabakoff at his Kabby Sound Studio; others were thrown together with a mobile rig belonging to Holy Garden District (that’s a local band) guitarist Ben Clary (also a sound champ; also, he’s on this album). When it comes to “Meaninglessness,” though, something about the slightly flawed execution, the lo-fi constraints of a non-pro recording setup, the slightly off-key vocal work by Blanchard...well, it just works. If we are, in fact, to feel meaninglessness with the guy, a slow build from solo piano and a lone voice to an almost movie score-like bit of guitar and chord organ, those movements get us there. There are moments, too, and this is true of the entire record, where it sounds like Blanchard doesn’t feel fully confident in his singing. Others might find this lacking; I find it human and beautiful and entirely more interesting than an auto-tuned bazillionth take that sounds sonically perfect.
“It’s like I have a tendency to gaze into the void a lot—the state of the world, things that are bad,” Blanchard tells SFR. “I dunno, just...life that can kind of get under me. One way of coping is writing about it.”
Lyrically, then, ...kind of a bummer is just that, even if it’s lousy with fun, heavy and garage-y guitar riffs and subtle use of Quasi-esque synths and keys. Musically, it’s more like kind of a good time. Lyrically, Blanchard cuts deep through stream-of-consciousness poetry.
“I swore I’d have an answer,” he sings on late album track, “A Monster,” “When I didn’t have an answer, I swore some more and kicked the dirt.” Oh, baby, that hurts so right. Sadly, not everything on bummer is a winner, and some of the mixing and mastering even obscures certain vocal phrases behind Blanchard’s hired guns: the aforementioned Clary, formerly local Ten Ten Division front woman Vonnie Kyle and still-local drummer Marcus DiFillippo—a beast of a percussionist if ever there was one. “I’ve Seen You,” for example, brushes up against mathy guitar and a feel akin to ‘80s pop, but audio effects make the vocals feel like an afterthought, or almost like Blanchard had tired of re-litigating his own neuroses by the time he laid it down. If you stay with it, you’ll find a competent ode to being unsure of who one is, a relatable conundrum, indeed.
Nevertheless, Blanchard sticks the landing with closer “There is Nothing,” a drum machine jam and head-bobber with some sneaky They Might Be Giants-esque flair. Like them, Blanchard dreamed of glory, or at least of digging into heavy subjects with a pleasing audio palette from which to pull. We’ll call it experimentation and maturation. Whether or not he knows it—and he explicitly says it’s not his intent, by the way—Blanchard winds up as a storyteller on this final track, he finds a sense of movement. Similar to the record’s third track, “At Every Curve,” for which local musician Luke Bern Carr has shot and is currently editing a music video (Blanchard’s first), his ultimate deal seems to be one of a sensitive guy with access to a lot of cool toys. We’ve seen him grow on EPs like Imminence and singles like Song for a Stingray, but I’m comfortable saying we can almost count on his next big release being the magnum opus. Not bad for a guy who two years ago had a tour canceled last minute because of the pandemic.
“March of 2020 was going to be my month, man,” Blanchard says.
Understandable but, and I’m speaking directly to Blanchard here, there are a lot of other months ahead of you, friendo.
Find ...kind of a bummer on the usual streaming sites, plus on vinyl at Lost Padre Records (131 B W Water St., (505) 310-6389) and through dylanblanchard.bandcamp.com.