Review: Blue Water White Death – Blue Water White Death (2010)
When Blue Water White Death announced its existence mere months ago via what kids these days call “The Pitchfork”, I literally squealed with excitement. Yes, readers, I, a full grown woman, squealed. To understand why, you must first understand that half of conceptual rock duo Blue Water White Death is Jonathan Meiburg, who used to be in Okkervil River. Then you must understand my love for Okkervil River. (Cliff notes: I LOVE THEM SO MUCH, YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND.) This love of Okkervil River has carried over to Meiburg’s current band, Shearwater. Ergo, it is only fitting that the adoration also carried over to Blue Water White Death. My relationship with Meiburg is like that Savage Garden song where the effeminate lead singer tells Kirsten Dunst that he loved her before he met her. Blue Water White Death, I knew I loved you before I met you.
The other half of Blue Water White Death, as has been well documented in the press, is Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart. I’ve never been big on Xiu Xiu, although I honestly haven’t listened to enough of them to form an opinion on whether I actually like them or not, but the involvement of Meiburg more than made up for my disinterest in Stewart. Of course, the fact that I’m pretty unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu did mean that I didn’t know what to expect of Blue Water, other than the eerily powerful voice of Meiburg and, perhaps, some tunes about nature. With press releases calling the melding of the Xiu Xiu and Shearwater front men “ambitious” and “the most experimental album of 2010”, however, I began to grow a bit nervous because, quite frankly, “ambitious” tends to mean “tedious” and “experimental” is a nice term for “weird”.
How did the self titled Blue Water White Death fare when it came to “weirdness”? Well, when I took a look at the disc, the album opened with “This Is The Scrunchyface Of My Dreams” and closed with “Rendering The Juggalos”. In between, there was “Grunt Tube” and “Death for Christmas”. Weirdness? Well, they’ve got it in spades, don’t they?
Actually, Blue Water White Death isn’t nearly as strange as it’s made out to be. Nothing here is groundbreaking and, truth be told, I sort of just feel like I’m listening to a Shearwater album before the rest of the band stepped in and backed Meiburg’s powerful voice with the full “rock band” treatment they showed on this year’s The Golden Archipelago. There are some “odd” elements here. The reverb on the harshly plucked upright bass at the beginning of “Songs For The Greater Jihad” is a good example of that, as is the “creaking door” sound that assaults your eardrums later, but when something is touted as “strange” and “experimental”, as Blue Water White Death has been, I expect something more overwhelmingly bizarre. I wanted Meiburg and Stewart to get real weird with it on this disc and what happened was they got a little weird and then settled into a Shearwater-esque pattern of normalcy.
Of course, you know, all of Shearwater’s records have been and continue to be small masterpieces by a band that deserves more recognition and adoration than they deserve. Saying Blue Water White Death is clearly Shearwater-esque is a good thing. It would just be a better thing if, you know, half of Blue Water White Death wasn’t the core member of Shearwater. In fact, “Nerd Future” goes so far as to sound eerily like a b-side to Shearwater’s Rook.
The one track on Blue Water White Death that does manage to get pretty weird with it is “Grunt Tube”, with its echoing piano and underwater vocals. It’s a song that would make a creepily fantastic haunted house soundtrack. As the end of the five minute “Grunt Tube” approaches, Meiburg’s vocals began to speed up to a heart attack rate as he repeats his refrain until you think maybe you can suss out what exactly it is that Meiburg’s saying but… No dice. In fact, all of the songs are nearly incomprehensible on a lyrical basis which is kind of a bummer because the big draw for me so far as anything involving Meiburg is involved in is his voice. His voice! Please, do yourself a favor and listen to “Rooks”. Then you’ll understand what I mean when I say that Meiburg’s voice is the best instrument any band could ever hope to have. It’s unearthly, constantly acting as not the glue that holds things together but rather the cement. Why cement? Because it’s just that powerful. Glue a couple of musicians together and you’ll find they’ll have writhed apart in no time. Cement them, however, and they’re stuck. And that’s just what Meiburg’s voice does, be it on a duet with Will Sheff, with Shearwater, or with Stewart’s handiwork behind him.
Blue Water White Death is a mere eight songs, which adds up to a running time of just under 33 minutes, just the perfect length for an album of this nature. For me, Blue Water White Death is background music, a great record to fall asleep while listening to (so long as you don’t mind the creepy dreams that might result in). Also, for me, Blue Water White Death is a record that requires dissecting. I feel as if, once I’ve lived with Meiburg and Stewart’s infant child for a few months, I’ll get a better handle on it. But right now, I just feel like I’m just listening to Shearwater in the hands of a stranger producer.
As for those song titles? Don’t ask me, I think Meiburg and Stewart might be pulling one over on us. There’s not even a single word about Violent J or Shaggy 2 Dope in “Rendering The Juggalos”!