Reverb on The Heavy Blinkers
One of last year’s most highly anticipated local recordings has finally been released – the self-titled sophomore disc from The Heavy Blinkers.
The full-length CD is a showcase for Halifax’s studio band par excellence, with instrumentation ranging from timpani to theremin, from string quartet to glockenspiel. There’s also flute, trombone, saxophone, trumpet, toy piano, harpsichord, vibraphone, pedal steel, and – still hanging in there – guitar, bass, and drums.
“We were trying to keep it sparse,” says guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist, and founding Blinker Jason MacIsaac. “It sounds more interesting. I don’t know if pop music has exhausted the guitar-bass-drums formation, but it’s just nice to hear other instruments.”
Jason and his musical partner and engineer Andrew Watt, along with fellow Blinkers Trevor Forbes (bass), Greg Fry (drums) and Ruth Minnikin (vocals), spent 30 consecutive 18-hour days at Idea of East last April laying down the basic tracks for their latest opus. That was followed by two months of overdubbing and three months of mixing.
“It’s not meant to be listened to in one sitting,” stresses MacIsaac, “It’s pretty easily digested, I think, but by no means is it something you have to sit down (for) from beginning to end, because there’s just so much information on it.”
Even with 21 songs and 20-plus instruments, the album manages to pack its multi-layered pleasures into 48 minutes, with the shortest song clocking in at 46 seconds.
Watt and MacIsaac first collaborated on the Blinkers’s 1998 debut CD Hooray for Everything, which Watt also engineered at Sustain. Watt says he’d never seen anyone so excited about the Beach Boys as MacIsaac was when he came into the studio in 1997.
“The songs (on the debut) were not Beach Boysy at all, it was just indie rock with Beach Boys arrangements,” says MacIsaac. “This one was more of a conscious effort to do more jazzy chord structures than the first album.”
Although their lush orch-pop pretty authentically references a certain period in pop music history, MacIsaac says there’s a coonscious effort with the band to keep the lyrics contemporary and the arrangements serendipitous. “I never would want to make anything derivative. I’d feel so embarrassed. The worst thing I could hear from someone is that it was just recycled.”
The band’s embrace of complexity has its problems, though, especially when it comes to mounting a live performance. One alternative is to use videos for promotion. Drummer Fry has created an animated clip for “You Can Heal” featuring subtitles (for character dialogue, not lyrics) in five languages. “It’s all about a robot who gets the wrong surgery performed on him and has to seek out his own surgery within the wings of the hospital,” says MacIsaac.
But touring remains the band’s biggest challenge. “We can’t reproduce the album, so we try to find other ways… if we had it our way we’d be the Heavy Blinkers collective, kind of how the Rome Plows used to be.”
Watt laughs when he talks about where he’d like the band to end up. “Our future outlook would be soft-seaters, major cities, once a month…”
– James Covey