Date(s) – 08/11
10:00 pm – 11:30 pm
Bayou On Penn
Released on June 24, 2011, Blue Light City– the third full length studio recording from progressive rock band Turbine– debuted at #3 in the Relix / Jambands.com and Homegrown Music radio charts and has raised the bar for the band and—possibly, in terms of studio recordings, for the broader jam rock community as a whole. Produced by Grammy-winner John Davis (The Black Keys), Blue Light City evokes the smart groove-pop of ’80’s bands like INXS and XTC, the psychedelic rock of Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd, the soul-rock ofJimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, aspects of prog-rock pioneers Yes and King Crimson and even elements of late 70′s era Grateful Dead, all in one strangely cohesive record. These diverse influences would typically clash and burn, but Turbine’s singular vision combines them in a way that makes it all simply sound like Turbine.
The overarching sonic identity of this New York City-based quartet was forged over the last five years, starting when it was a tenacious duo comprised of guitarist / singer and primary songwriter Jeremy Hilliard and harmonicist / rhythm guitarist / singer-songwriter Ryan Rightmire. As a duo, Turbine started to experiment in odd time signatures and unorthodox compositional structures as they crafted songs that were both accessible and upbeat, despite their remarkable complexity and musical sophistication. After a few years of this, they realized they needed a rhythm section, brought on bassist Justin Kimmel and drummer Octavio Salman, and debuted the new band on a national tour at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 10,000 Lakes Festival, Wakarusa and Gathering Of The Vibes. They then returned to the northeast to resume the arduous process of building their regional fan base as a full band.
Turbine now stands poised to emerge as one of the most forward thinking, musically ambitious bands in their loosely defined scene. With the rhythm section, Rightmire was able to realize his futuristic vision for the harmonica, which he plays with a neck sling, all the while playing guitar and singing harmonies and leads. Effects and technology have transformed his instrument’s traditional role: the keyboards, turntablism, strings and other odd sounds that the compositions call for are delivered by this Hohner-endorsed pioneer of the harp’s future. It is common for people stumbling into a Turbine show to be amazed by the spectacle of Rightmire, but as they start to absorb what is going on around them, listeners begin to appreciate the passion and intelligence of Hilliard’s vocals and lyrics, then find themselves impressed with his intense, fiery guitar work. Underpinning all of this, Kimmel’s bass lines help define and punctuate the music, setting-up and pushing grooves forward, driving the bus from the low end in typical prog-rock fashion, while leaving enough room for the nuance of the song structures and the dynamics of Salman’s percussive backbeat to shine through.
Blue Light City’s opening track, “War of 9161 (The Pledge),” is vintage Turbine: harmonica melody, funky rhythm section and rocking guitar lines cleverly disguise a 5/4 groove as a “four on the floor” beat, creating a mood of impending doom a la Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” The setting for the song– an apocalyptic future– and the pledge the central characters make introduce themes that swirl around throughout the record. “No Explanation” is more of a straight ahead, accessible blues rock song that sets the table for “Members Only”‘s ’80′s pop vibe. There is an immediate familiarity to this tune that carries into the laid back swamp funk of “Eddy The Sea”– a fan favorite that features a defining line for the band: “caught between the land and the stars and the sea”. The trippy surrealism of “Eddy The Sea” gives way to “Special Of The Day,” the compositional the centerpiece of the album, in which Turbine explores variations on a couple of musical themes, building tension with different sections, employing a variety of time signatures such as 7/8 and using every possible harmonic tension against the tonal center of the song. All of the tension created structurally is mirrored in an unconventional verse that doesn’t resolve until the chorus. Lyrically, the band returns to themes introduced in “War of 9161.” “Special Of The Day” is an ironic metaphor for some of the answers people come up with to the question of how to deal with a world where there is no proof of anything beyond that which we can immediately see. Hilliard asks: “What are the options for us? Religion? Power? Money? Love? What are the choices we make to derive meaning from life and get us through the day and the night.” A lot of the tension built up in this track resolves in “Just Like These Wheels,” a mellow, bittersweet road song with hints of country and folk. In terms of resolution, “Behind These Walls” also offers some answers to the questions posed by “Special Of The Day.” Here Hilliard comes to terms with the fact that we can’t see “behind these walls”, but there are “sounds in the hall” which give reassurance that there is, indeed, something beyond– something we can only know through art and the interpersonal communication of ideas, spirituality, etc.. Teleport, an appropriately titled song, brings the listener back down with a slow, poetic meditation on distance that explodes into swirling orchestral teleportation sounds and a slow rock/ trance outro. The title track– Blue Light City, rife with wailing, driving rock riffs on harmonica and guitar and towering vocal harmonies– is the heaviest track on the record, both musically and lyrically. According to Hilliard, “Blue Light City is a futuristic metropolis where the people are waking up, coming to terms with the fact that they have been ignoring the important questions the record has asked so far– mostly out of fear– but now they are waking up, realizing where they are and confronting that fear, however difficult it may be.” The release of the tension and heaviness of Blue Light City comes in the album closer, “Set Me Free,” in which 12-string guitar, acoustic bass and a sweet melody create an idyllic soundscape for poetic verses that deal directly with love. Hilliard explains that “Love is presented as salvation in the harsh world this album sometimes describes. However, it is love with a price, because the journey never ends, and you can only hope love is good enough to get you through.”
Turbine has had their ups and downs over the last five years as they have changed everything but their name and their desire to make thought-provoking rock music that you can dance to. Blue Light City is an album built on experience, and—at the same time, a new beginning for Turbine.