Even as its individual songs sound strikingly different from one another, iii is yet another incredibly focused effort from Blessed.
To look at Nathan Levasseur’s artwork for Blessed‘s newest EP iii is to see the world in it. Those stacked blocks speak to the body’s mass of disparate parts precariously assembled in space; the brain’s anxious exercise of sorting and processing input like a chaotic game of Tetris. It’s also possible to see the fragile connectivity of the social fabric: how individual and collective actions can both prop up and dismantle complex communities. In addition to all that, though, Levasseur’s work strikes at the core of Blessed’s band dynamic. As pointed out in the band’s bio on their website: “It’s an image that captures Blessed at their most essential: experimental, asymmetrical, and interdependent, all the more remarkable for their marriage of those three qualities.”
Obviously, the truths and potential meanings housed in the artwork for iii find their roots in the music. Like all of Blessed’s work, this EP is full of precision, complexity, experimentation, idiosyncrasy and herculean skill, but not for its own sake. Nothing here feels detached, synthetic, or aloof. Instead, iii is undergirded by very real human drives and feelings, the most potent of which are camaraderie, community, and action.
On 2019’s Salt, the band’s first full-length following an excellentrun of EPs and singles, Blessed broke new sonic ground by doubling down on their erratic, adventurous approach. Arrangements got stranger one moment and simpler the next; they honed rhythms into taut rings before allowing them to meander and flow; Drew Riekman’s vocals felt more urgent and locked in than ever, before fading out for long stretches. Salt works so well because Blessed uses a categorical rejection of consistency as their starting point and builds out from there in total cohesion.
This rejection of consistency is also a foundational aspect of iii‘s production, songwriting, and final mix. In that same bio posted on the band’s website, Riekman elaborates: “Why are rock bands always trying to have consistency? Why do we care so much about consistency? If it’s art made by us, the consistency is us. For us, working with a community is probably the best aspect of creating art outside of making the art itself.”
Born out of this approach, iii is a testament to both individual action and the power of the community. The band produced the record themselves, recorded vocals at friend’s houses, and, most noticeably, had each of the songs mixed by a different individual: “Sign,” mixed by Corin Roddick of Purity Ring; “Structure,” mixed by John McEntire of Tortoise; “Centre,” mixed by Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck; “Movement,” mixed by Drew Riekman. And yes, these songs sound strikingly different from one another when compared as isolated units. But what’s remarkable here is how, when taken as a whole, it all just works. iii is a centred, focused effort that willfully smears and swirls itself with precision. Ultimately, as Riekman says, this is the band’s doing: “If it’s art made by us, the consistency is us.”
Blessed is the bond that holds iii together and contains its multitudes. As a result, the EP can be read as an example of what it is to be an effective band: First, the amount of individual technical skill here is undeniable, but song service always comes first. The band works to channel complexity into arrangements that draw the listener in, rather than distract; highlight the collective, rather than the individual. These songs are made stronger not by their “parts” but by the deep connective tissues, pulses, and energies that hold them together and propel them forward. Second, Blessed’s belief in communal action shows that being in an independent band nowadays should be anything but. The creative collaboration that fuelled iii‘s creation stems from the same effort that Blessed makes to nurture the scene in their hometown of Abbotsford, BC, to help make it a place where artmaking is inclusive, collaborative, and rooted in solidarity.
“You don’t have to enact it, as long as you listen.” The first lines of “Structure” cut deep. They critique our tendency to substitute in passive listening and consideration for deliberate participation, action, and doing when it comes to the issues we say matter to us. Riekman acknowledges that he sometimes sees this tendency in himself and his community, and many of us, myself included, can say the same. That said, to listen to iii and understand how it came into fruition is to know that Blessed is a band that understands what’s possible through both individual and collective action. From their music to their community, they know that collaboration and support can lead to beautiful results.