ALBUM REVIEW: Guy Blakeslee “Ophelia Slowly”


Whether performing with a trio or a quartet or semi-solo, whether in full psychedelic mode or reinterpreting the blues, Guy Blakeslee has a fantastic knack for making music that sounds haunted and doomed. June 10th marks the release of Ophelia Slowly, which, though not Blakeslee’s first solo release, is the first to come out under his real name instead of some permutation of the stage name Entrance. It hasn’t been long since Blakeslee released a record–The Entrance Band’s Face The Sun came out last November–and both that album and Ophelia Slowly chronicle a journey out of darkness and tumult, and into the proverbial light. Blakeslee has a history of substance abuse and was struggling to get clean when he wrote many of the songs on both these albums, so it’s natural that they would share a preoccupation with the material, but Blakeslee manages not to repeat himself at all with the release of Ophelia Slowly. Face The Sun was a rock album, heady and guitar-driven, with watery melody lines and psychedelic wah-wahing that trafficked in symbol and metaphor more than it did straightforward storytelling.

But on Ophelia Slowly, Blakeslee’s voice and lyrics become the focal point of the music. In the interest of holding the spotlight on the story line, Blakeslee keeps the music very simple, and many of the songs–“Smile On” and “Ophelia Brown,” notably–maintain a straight, sing-song-y structure that recalls elements of his early work, back when Entrance was a solo project and Blakeslee liked to reconfigure the blues and give it a psychedelic twist. However, despite the simple rhythms and emphasis on narrative, there’s little on Ophelia Slowly that’s musically reminiscent of the blues–the album’s foundation consists primarily of looped synth lines and an unassuming drum machine track.

Blakeslee has long been fascinated by states of trance. This album–which is, essentially, his version of an introspective, songwriter-y project–concocts swirling, circular guitar parts and a tightly rhyming vocal line that escalates, like a spiral staircase, as it moves from phrase to phrase. For Blakeslee, the music tells a story best once it’s in this hypnotic state. This concept is familiar turf–in the twenty years he’s been making music, Blakeslee has perfected the trick of creating a whirlpool inside a song–but Ophelia Slowly manages to maintain this churning, circular state for almost the full length of the album. That’s not a complaint. Actually, it’s impressive that the record’s repetition never wears out its welcome. “Told Myself” is a great example: with quiet, whining anguish, Blakeslee plays with the phrase “You were true and a liar too,” shifting meaning and replacing a word occasionally as he relentlessly repeats the lyric. “You were clean and a junkie too,” the song finally concludes, in the same stretched-out, high pitched melody, over a strummed acoustic guitar. They’ve got potential for melodrama, but in Blakeslee’s hands, the songs are beautifully ragged. As a collection, Ophelia Slowly is foreboding, not too optimistic, and full of compelling grit and fatigue.

You can check out “Kneel & Pray,” off Ophelia Slowly, below. The full album will be out June 10th.

ALBUM REVIEW: “Face The Sun”

Entrance-Band-1024x994The three members of The Entrance Band—frontman Guy Blakeslee, Paz Lenchantin on bass and drummer Derek James–have expressed displeasure with the stoner rock classification often used to describe their music, and indeed, the November 2013 LP Face The Sun is too tricky to fall into one just one category: channeling elements of psychedelic trance, trippy garage rock, the grungier end of metal and a touch of rockabilly, the new record melds various eras and evocations in service to the ideas it expresses. Themes run expansive on Face The Sun; lyrics like “Blood, sweat, sugar and spice, light and dark, fire and ice/shedding tears of sacrifice at the gates of paradise” set up the collection as an exploration of extremes and a journey from one end of the spectrum to another.

Face The Sun isn’t a straight shot from darkness to light, though, nor is it a story of transformation exactly. The music’s intensity focuses more closely on playing with the tensions between those extremes, with noodling vocal lines that shift from major to minor mode or float heroically over distorted, spellbinding instrumentals. If there’s a redemption story here, it’s an incomplete and messy one.

The reaper does come calling on this album, without a doubt. “Spider,” the best and most diabolically infectious track on Face The Sun, contains all the sunburnt misery and grim determination of Alice In Chains’ early nineties track, “Rooster.”  Frontloaded in “Medicine,” “Spider” and “The Crave” (tracks two, three and four), the rhyme-driven narrative focus creates an angst that’s catchy and extremely compelling. In “The Cave”, the line “When I’m in my grave, no more good times will I crave” quotes verbatim Elizabeth Cotten’s early twentieth-century standard “Freight Train.” The recollection, itself embroiled in hard times and an escape from darkness, tinges Entrance with weighty folk, recalling Blakeslee’s past lives as a hard rock and blues musician.

The end of the LP, like its beginnings with “Fine Flow”, conjures spacey, surreal ambiance. But whereas the first track opens urgently, the final song, “Night Cat,” evokes a sleepy moodiness. The band forgoes straight trajectory in favor of a non-linear album-long line that weaves between extremes of light and darkness, and the downside to this complexity comes when, at the end, “Night Cat” shows little progression beyond “Fine Flow,” and a marked decline in momentum. Both tracks trend psychedelic and repetitive, and both could stand to be much shorter. The meat of the album lies in the middle, where each track features a traversal of big themes and big evolution unto itself. The first and last track of the album feel redundant by comparison, bookending an already complete project with a beginning and ending.

Listen to “Fire Eyes,” off Face The Sun Here, via Soundcloud:

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