Once known for a down-tempo, lounge-styled sound, Blue States have transformed completely on their third album, The Soundings. What was once mainly Andy Dragazis has become a full-fledged band, with Chris Carr joining in on vocals and guitar and Jon Chandler (who appeared on Blue States’ 2002 album, Man Mountain) on drums. But even more surprising is the new direction they’ve taken: No longer is Dragazis living in a 1960s noir-styled secret lounge. This is early-80s new wave, heavy on the Joy Division. The only trace of the Blue States’ former sound is the strong cinematic tone that runs throughout the album.
The first two songs use the new sound best, with opener “Across the Wire” practically creating a new Smiths song. “For a Lifetime” is a great ballad all its own, with some chugging guitars and a sitar somewhere in the distance. Strong melodies carry “The Last Blast” and “Final Flight,” which both succeed admirably.
Despite the shift, the album isn’t unrecognizable as a Blue States recording. There are still instrumental tracks, and they have the deep emotional resonance particularly present in Dragazis’s outstanding 2001 debut, Nothing Changes Under the Sun. “One Night on Tulane” is a brilliantly cinematic four minutes that builds to a beautiful climax that would impress any film composer. The remaining instrumentals are equally beautiful, bringing to mind the Cure’s Disintegration.
The Soundings creeps up on you and gets inside your head. People who don’t like Blue States albums are generally people who haven’t listened to Blue States albums enough. Deceptively simple, they reveal their complexities upon repeated listens. Thankfully, although it’s a big departure from the original sound, this album is no different. It may not have the heft or natural beauty of the debut — and no one is going to mistake this for Joy Division’s Closer — but give The Soundings a chance and you’ll be well-rewarded.