The Heavy Blinkers


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After the release of their wonderful 2004 album The Night and I Are Still So Young, the Heavy Blinkers began to splinter. When the dust cleared and the survivors were counted, only founding member Jason MacIsaac remained. After many years and much work from MacIsaac, an updated version of the band returned with a new album in 2013. Titled Health, the record follows the orchestral pop template the band spent years crafting, sounding of a piece with the records that preceded it, but also different in some crucial ways. MacIsaac's arrangements are stuffed with sound, packing in strings, massed voices, all sorts of keyboards, and splashes of tympani, glockenspiel, and percussion. Even more than on previous albums, there's a sense of dramatic intensity and emotional depth in the sound, as if MacIsaac were writing an epic novel as much as he was writing four-minute pop songs. Indeed, the record is a sort of concept album revolving around war and unrequited love that is almost gloomy in its intensity. To go along with the heavy sound of the music, the vocalists (including new recruits Jenn Grant and Melanie Stone, MacIsaac, and guest Sondre Lerche) wring all kinds of emotion out of the poetic lyrics. Tracks like the funereal "Why Must You Hide Your Light" and "Silence Your Drum" sound like they were written on tear-stained paper and sung with a box of tissues on hand. Even the songs with a little bit of bounce, like the witty "Someone Died Today at the Ice Capades" and "Call It a Day," have a melancholic core to go along with the weeping strings and accordions. It's an almost overpowering experience to listen to Health in one sitting, which is something that would never have been said about the Blinkers' work in the past. Perhaps it's down to the dark sadness involved in MacIsaac's concept or maybe it's the absence of Andrew Watt's contributions, but the joy and fun of previous albums is missing and missed. That's not enough of a mark to dismiss the album, however, as MacIsaac can still write lovely melodies and his extended crew fills them with impressively expressive sounds. And once you let the album start to sink in after repeated plays, the emotion really hits hard and sticks with you. Health is definitely not an easy listen and it may not quite sound like the Heavy Blinkers of the past, but it is an album that people who enjoy thoughtful and dramatic pop should find quite rewarding.

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