The third full-length album by Hush Records president Chad Crouch's own band Blanket Music is a bit more musically wide-ranging than the group's earlier records, which stuck to the basic twee/indie/jangle pop aesthetic. Cultural Norms doesn't exactly rock out -- as always, the A+B description of Blanket Music is basically "Belle & Sebastian with the guy from Mercury Rev on lead vocals" -- but the guest addition of the Decemberists' Chris Funk and Jenny Crouch on pedal steel and accordion, along with new bandmember Mike Johnson (whose '70s-style electric piano perfectly decorates songs like the anti-consumerist character study "Keep the Prices Down") and the judicious use of strings and horns, adds a richer texture to the sound without overwhelming Crouch's clever lyrics. Said lyrics are considerably sharper than before as well; in keeping with the album's title, the songs on Cultural Norms cast a rueful but not cynical eye on modern-day society. Songs like "A Soldier's Story" and "Guernica" take the Iraq war as their subject but make their points without simplistic sloganeering, and "The Filesharer's Lament" (which strongly recalls the dry wit of the Decemberists' Colin Meloy) is an equally impressive review of the homeland scene.
Cultural Norms Review
by Stewart Mason