Release Date: February 1st, 2015
Label: Jaz Records
It would be easy to dismiss Hello Blue Roses as a side project of Dan Bejar (Destroyer, The New Pornographers), but you’d be way off the mark. First of all, this is more the project of his partner, visual artist Sydney Hermant, who did most of the writing and sings all of the lead vocals. Second of all, HBR is a musical force in its own right, making a bold statement and pushing boundaries.
Hermant’s delicately clear voice takes centre stage here, hovering high above the instrumentation as if it’s operating on a different level entirely (and perhaps it is). It’s angelic, but at the same time it is laced with a gravitas. Hermant is wistful but too world-weary to be flat-out romantic. By way of example, on “Amulet” she speaks of carrying her lover around like an amulet, because the concept of him is more real than his actual presence (“you were always on the way out”).
If taken as an album of intriguing singer-songwriter tunes then ‘WZO’ would be impressive enough, but it is far more than that. HBR take high baroque pop (think late sixties Lee Hazlewood or Scott Walker) and thrust it up through the layers of contemporary dream pop to startling new heights. It’s like listening to a lounge act while sitting around the methane pools of Neptune (spacesuit tux highly recommended). Of course they stand on the shoulders of giants in doing so, taking off from levels already paved out by the likes of Bjork, Goldfrapp and Portishead. It’s an admirable leap nevertheless.
The songs’ arrangements and instrumentation are what make the leap possible. With the use of reverb, quiet distortion and deep echo, HBR create a sound that is both stirringly nostalgic and clinically futuristic at the same time. One gets the sense that the overall production is a collaborative effort between the two partners, but there is no denying that Bejar’s touch (from Destroyer especially) is all over it.
One of the album’s many highlights is the inspired cover of Japan’s “Ghosts”, wherein HBR take the British art rock band and park them in downtown (ha) Twin Peaks, Washington. For that matter, when listening to ‘WZO’ we are all there, having a damn fine cup of coffee and cherry pie at the Double-R. No complaints. Damn fine place to be.