Breaking the Blues

(Bird on a Lyre Records)


The idea that the internet killed regionalism is a popular myth, but music is not Walmart. Not yet, anyway. Not quite. You really only need to get out of your zip code to realize, despite the fact that everything is technically equally available to everyone everywhere, that bands from places have a strange tendency to sound like those places. Or maybe the principle operates in reverse.

Amy Blaschke, who is from Seattle but moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, represents an interesting corollary to this proposition. Her sixth and most accomplished album, Breaking the Blues, is a perfect tonal hybrid of those two cities, a gouache of burning orange sunset dotted with patches of dense, dark gray. Everyone loves to act like Seattle and LA couldn't be more different, but despair is where you find it.

Blaschke's old Northwest default mode—spare songs of icy melancholy—has developed into an enviable skill for subtly fleshed-out rock band arrangements that sound but don't feel country. (Or maybe feel but not sound? The signs are there, steel and slide, etc. But it's more Byrds in '66 than Byrds in '68.) And though the songs are about sad, interior stuff, the playing is brisk and inviting.

Her voice has settled back into a gentle, throaty tone that serves the intimate subject matter, much of which has to do with the dislocating properties of desire. But if her singing is vulnerable, it's also commanding. "I whisper when I say/Please take me over," she sings on "Under My Skin," a song about love as a kind of infection you don't want cured. It's the same dynamic that makes sad people listen to sad songs.

Later, on the title track, she adds this image: "My heart aches until my heart breaks." It may not be the most optimistic sentiment ever expressed, but it's hard to deny, no matter where you live. recommended