My love for an artist often starts with a unique and personal songwriting style. The similarities between their tracks may sometimes come and go with experimentation or moments of expansion. But the artists I’m talking about always maintain the ability to sound like themselves, no matter what different kinds of textures they may explore. After countless listens to Blush Face‘s debut album, What Do You Want?, I feel confident saying Allie Smith is one of these artists and her band is one of the tightest in Richmond.
Mixed by Tim Falen and mastered by Allen Behrgendal, the 9 tracks What Do You Want? explore a wide expanse of stylistic takes on Allie’s beautiful songwriting and in turn, reveal her band’s striking talent. By the end of the record the group is not only a solid and suitable accompaniment to Smith’s songwriting, but also a crucial part of defining and building out each song. While Smith’s twisting, conversationally poetic trips through both her subconscious and life experiences stand very well on their own, the backing trio of bassist Christopher Carreon, drummer Drew Barnocky on drums and guitarist Evan Hoffman give the tracks a huge punch and a spooky, ethereal shimmer.
The album kicks off with “Magnolia,” introducing a dark floaty tremelo-ed guitar line and a few different types of bells creeping in from either speaker before it falling into its 6/8 rhythm. Smith’s voice swoops and jumps through this track, dropping quips about how we react emotionally to the things in which we find (and sometimes assign) meaning.
The track rolls into the sassy saunter of “Eat My Blues,” which quickly became one of my favorite tracks on this record. Over a shifting and surprising shuffle beat, Smith playfully asks why it’s easier to write songs out of sadness and tragedy than happiness or contentment; might it be some force in the cosmos feeding on our energy? “Who is eating my blues?” Smith asks before coming to the conclusion that whatever the cause of this phenomenon is, she’s happy being part of it.
The next track is the conflicted love journey of “Love For a Ghost.” Starting out minimally with just Smith, the band comes in around halfway through the song to make her escalating frustration almost tangible. The song ends on a serene note and floats into the hazy, summer afternoon feelings of “Citronella Cinderella”. On this song, Smith responds to a cat caller (or to be accurate, all cat callers) with a subtly biting attitude, telling the unwelcome male attention, coyly adding “the mosquitoes around here bite hard.”
“Home Electric” brings the album to a hard hitting climax. As we reach the halfway point, the band lays out one of its most explosive tracks, while the lyrics explore the tingly and exciting sort of electric comfort you experience with someone who love. Chris Carreon’s bass line in this song is just incredibly infectious and makes me move every time they play it.
This resolves into “Divine Games,” a delicate waltz that takes influence from older confessional country styles and creates a lush environment with Chrissie Lozano’s flute and effects-drenched lead lines by Evan Hoffman that recall a pedal steel guitar. Atmospherically, this song really takes you on a beautiful trip before dropping you into “Purgatory.” Evolving and building over its 6 minutes, “Purgatory” explores the feeling of going everywhere but nowhere fast; putting energy into everything beautiful around you, but still feeling unsure about where it all leads. It ends with Smith telling the listener they can have what they want, “Darlin you are divine,” before confessing to us what she desires.
The album comes to a close with a couplet of shorter songs, “Rock Star Drama Queen” and “Clicking Heels.” These tracks are different from each other stylistically, but lyrically they’re both short impressionist snapshots of certain feelings or emotions. The former captures the moment of turning heart broken pain into a fuel for your own fire, and the latter paints a picture of what it’s like to find yourself unexpectedly in the middle of things coming together just perfectly.
That’s really what Blush Face does so very well on their debut record; they single out a feeling for a song and build all the instruments and sounds around it until everything is just right.
Blush Face celebrates their album release with a free show at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery Saturday, September 23rd, with Gull and Bad Magic. For more information visit the event page.