On the press release accompanying Blueneck's fifth album King Nine, three musical influences are cited to help bring the project into clearer focus: “the electronica of Boards of Canada; the movie soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and John Carpenter; the melodicism and melancholia of Kid A-era Radiohead and Arcade Fire.” Of course, most press releases, often hyperbolic in tone, need to be broached with a critical eye, and that's no less the case here. Yes, echoes of said artists might conceivably be heard within the North Somerset, UK trio's music were one to go looking for them, but one is better advised to take the album on its own terms and treat suggested associations as a secondary concern.
Even a cursory listen to King Nine confirms that the signature element in Blueneck's sound is the tremulous voice of singer-songwriter Duncan Attwood (Richard Sadler and Ben Paget are the other members). Though the lyrics on the opening song “Counting Out” might express feelings of bitterness, betrayal, and resignation, the music is anything but resigned. Instead, Attwood's lighter-than-air vocal is supported by a punchy guitar-and-drums-driven arrangement that's spirited and breezy, and the song's stripped-down epilogue showcases the fragile character of his singing even more. That resigned tone isn't exclusive to the opening song, by the way, as others express similar sentiments; the penultimate “Mutatis,” for instance, opens cheerily with “I'm losing faith / Feeling afraid / This tumour takes over...”
It doesn't therefore surprise that the typical Blueneck song is an ultra-dramatic affair (see the title track and “Man of Lies” as representative examples), but the band also dials the intensity down for melancholy ballads such as “Broken Fingers” and “Spiderlegs” where strings and keyboards are the main accompaniments to Attwood's downtrodden vocalizing. Yet even during such supposedly quieter intervals, Blueneck's music can't help but gradually swell to an epic pitch.To return for a moment to the matter of influences, Blueneck—insofar as the claim can be made based on King Nine alone—would seem to have more in common musically with mainstream acts like Coldplay and U2 than Radiohead and Arcade Fire. Heavy on vocals, guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, and drums, Blueneck's songs are conventional as far as arrangements go, and the songs themselves generally conform to traditional structures. King Nine doesn't, in other words, attempt Radiohead-like deconstructions and re-inventions of the pop song; instead, the band operates within traditions of long-standing. That shouldn't be interpreted to mean that the album isn't a quality affair, as it assuredly is. Enhanced by a high-quality presentation in its packaging (which includes a full-colour booklet featuring lyrics and photos), the nine songs are polished and well-considered productions, and it's not hard to believe that three years were devoted to the fifty-four-minute album's creation. But a listener longing for experimental innovation would be advised to look elsewhere.