Whether they care to admit it or not, musicians who have any aspirations of long-term sustainability are in a constant battle for tiny morsels of our attention. And when you consider the sheer amount of music available, the relentless pace of its dissemination, and the frenetic nature of our shifting attentiveness, the battle has never seemed more ruthlessly or arbitrarily contested.
If you’re one of the countless numbers of acts slogging it out on the fringes, how do you even begin to contend with the uncertainty and the indifference? If you’re not hardwired to partake in the vacuous social media circus, unwilling to ride the cresting wave of current trends, and altogether more interested in challenging both the listener and your own musical capabilities, how do you expect to stay afloat in a sea of content?
I think about these questions when I listen to Vancouver’s Blessed, a band whose strategy for sustainability seems to hinge on playing the long game: put in the work, tour your ass off, put on an unforgettable live show, write great music, and eventually, if the conditions are right, the breakthrough will happen. It’s a daunting prospect, compounded by the fact that Blessed writes challenging music that doesn’t give way to immediate gratification. In fact, their work ethic as a band is echoed in what they ask of the listener: put in the work with these songs, truly listen, and the rewards will come.
On their self-titled EP released last year, the band paired eclectic songwriting with reserved technical wizardry, resulting in a brilliantly focused collection of songs. On their second EP in as many years, simply entitled II, Blessed broaden their scope while managing to retain the aspects of their sound that made their first EP so effective.
Clocking in just shy of a half hour, II is a meandering, schizophrenic listen brimming with exhilarating technical salvos and drastic changes in tone. It exudes a freewheeling spirit of experimentation that, as referenced earlier, has the potential to bewilder or repel the casual listener. And yet, Blessed counterbalances their more unhinged tendencies with infectious melodies and rewarding sections that recall bands like Television, Preoccupations, Talking Heads, and Ought. II’s opener “Phase” nearly hits the eight-minute mark and shifts gears more times than most full-length albums, but it is bookended by Drew Riekman’s excellent hooks and beautiful guitar lines. Time and time again –the punchy chorus on “Headache”, the airy vocals and the cathartic ending on “Body”, the duelling clean guitars on “Endure”–Blessed exhibit songwriting instincts that only serve to heighten the effect of their technical abilities.
While it’s always possible that artists this good will never get the exposure they deserve, I’m optimistic for Blessed. Hard work and tenacity aside, I’ve seen the effect they can have on a room. Last year, they played a show in Toronto to a bar that was both half-full and half-interested. But slowly, as they settled into their methodically airtight set–simultaneously awing and embarrassing the opening bands (my own included)–you could feel the energy in the room start to swell. Passers-by were drawn into the venue; stragglers from a private party happening in the upstairs portion of the bar began to flock down the stairs; spontaneous cheers went up during songs. Soon, the room was full and hanging on every note. There was no bullshit, no gimmicks, no matching outfits or guitar flips; hell, the band barely even spoke. Still, you would be hard pressed to find anyone in that room who wasn’t entirely captivated with what they were seeing.
You can only hope that as the tours and the releases pile up, so too does the band’s momentum. “Making it”, whatever the hell that means anymore, is secondary so long as a group of talented musicians continues to do what they love. If that can happen, it’ll be that much sweeter knowing that a band like Blessed did it not through begging for attention, but by genuinely commanding it.