Blevin Blectum, “Soft Death (Afresymegol)” (Deathbomb Arc)
Omni was a magazine dedicated to science fact, science fiction, and the paranormal that thrived in print from 1978 to 1995. Co-founded by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, the magazine surely captured the imagination of Blevin Blectum (aka Bevin Kelley), a former Seattle experimental-electronic-music producer now based in Point Arena, California.
As Kelley told me in a Stranger feature from 2018, she's drawn influence from sci-fi writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and J.G. Ballard. She's also performed in a Carl Sagan tribute band, called Sagan, oddly enough. So, the title of her new album, OMNII (released on cassette and digitally July 28), telegraphs her intentions. The results are as scientifically rigorous as you'd expect from this innovative musician whose day job is in Amazon's consumer robotics department.
Right from OMNII's opening enigmatic ambient fanfare, “Romana,” Blevin Blectum transports you to unearthly realms. The spacious drift of “Vermillion Sandstorm” conjures an effortless glide through inky nothingness, occasionally disrupted by laser blasts from the starship. Were he alive, Stanley Kubrick would love it. An almost gothic doom shrouds the sinister space-out of “Venus Velvet (Beyond the Nevermind),” its organ drone coming off like a skewed homage to Iron Butterfly's “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”
The truly disturbing “The Eternal Children's Choir of X-Day Celebration on Planet X” spotlights BB's fantastic capabilities in warped vocal manipulations. On “Nocturn (Planetfall Edit, Psaltriparus Minimus Maximus Mix),” an introspective abstract reverie morphs into a low-gravity, spacey techno excursion that recalls Tour De France Soundtracks-era Kraftwerk on LSD.
But the album's peak is “Soft Death (Afresymegol),” which packs a helluva lot of excitement and invention into its three minutes and change. Featuring some of the most spine-tingling xylophone motifs I've ever heard, a self-regenerating rhythm of strange propulsion, and some of Blevin Blectum's punchiest beats, this is the greatest cut that Aphex Twin never released—Plutonian techno-jazz at its finest. Make no mistake: “Soft Death” is a contender for song of the year.
On OMNII, Kelley has tempered her zanier inclinations and focused on the most sonorous and wonder-filled tones and otherworldly atmospheres of her career. It's a shame that Cosmos went off the air, as these tracks would make for an ideal soundtrack.
Brigid Mae Power, “I Must Have Been Blind” (Fire Records)
Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power has been beautifying the air with her gravely elegant folk music since releasing her poised, self-titled LP on the excellent Tompkins Square label in 2016. Over five studio albums, Power's voice has conveyed deep emotions without histrionics or bathos. In this way, she recalls soulful folk mavericks such as Julie Driscoll (aka Julie Tippetts) and Linda Perhacs.
So, it makes all kinds of sense that Power would cover Tim Buckley's sublime ballad “I Must Have Been Blind” on her new album, Dream from the Deep Well. The original version appears on Jeff's dad's Blue Afternoon (1969), and it captures the shapeshifting folk-jazz icon in a restrained and reflective mode, the methodical melody caressed by subtle vibraphone, brushed/mallet-struck drums and cymbals, and skeletal acoustic-guitar strums. Tim's words ooze regret about a relationship that didn't live up to its potential because he messed up, because reasons. The song should resonate with anyone who's experienced romantic rue.
In Power's interpretation of “I Must Have Been Blind,” piano and violin replace guitar and vibes as the primary melodic element, but the star of the performance is the singing. You can tell Power deeply relates to the tender turmoil at the song's core. Ordinarily, I'd consider it sacrilege for another artist to attempt one of my favorite Tim Buckley compositions, but Power damn near matches TB's profound poignancy. Respect!
“I Must Have Been Blind” is one of many highlights on the finely wrought Dream from the Deep Well. “Coming Down” emulates the yearning lilt of Bob Dylan's “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” to wax poetic about the struggle of balancing motherhood and a musical career. Power pays tribute to her heritage with reverent covers of “I Know Who Is Sick” and “Down by the Glenside,” an Irish traditional song and an Irish Republican standard from the 1920s, respectively. “Maybe It's Just Lightning” bears the swaying, delicate jangle-osity of prime Mazzy Star, but Power's voice carries more tonal variation than Hope Sandoval's. “The Waterford Song” flaunts a buoyancy and some of Power's most transportive chanting. The stately “I'll Wait Outside For You” bears beautiful slide-guitar sighs and more of Power's feathery gravitas. But nothing tops “I Must Have Been Blind” on this wonderful 21st-century revamp of trad-folk verities.