Blue Food: Engines
Normally associated with music that’s as complex as its lyrical subjects, progressive-rock often finds itself falling short in popularity and general interest. Its overly dramatic themes, epic-length run times, and elaborate arrangements habitually fail to interest mainstream audiences; the pomposity of the genre even spawned punk as a primitive reaction against prog. But that’s not to say that prog can’t be captivating to the masses, and the Fort Lee-based band Blue Food proves it with their blend of funk-infused rock.
With their first full-length release, Engines, Blue Food has moved their raucous stage show into the studio. This aggressive album boldly bridges gaps among jazz, funk, rock, and metal almost seamlessly. They take the most interesting attributes of prog-rock (mainly offbeat lyrics and idiosyncratic song structures) and combine it with the coolness of ‘70s-era Stevie Wonder. In songs like “Waterwalking,” listeners can hear distorted guitar riffs directly next to the animated melodies of brass instruments. The unique amalgamation of separate, distinct styles pushes Blue Food into untrodden territory, which is where the band prospers.
Singer Angel Eduardo leads the band with his enthusiastic vocals, his roaring voice melding with the music that surrounds it. On “Joker Face,” Eduardo even shows a little restraint—an important tool for keeping listeners engaged—when he sings, “See, Sonny, you gotta learn to play a little dirty / Straight shooting only makes it easier for me to win it / Deep down, you must’ve known the tables were turning.” One can feel his contained rumbling leading into the explosive chorus. Not to be outdone, the rest of the band fills the album with the seasoned expertise that can only come from years of playing together (since 2008, to be exact). The trio of Michael Carolan on trumpet, Jeremy Gorin on saxophone, and Chris Winn on trombone have an enticing charm, their cavorting instruments emphasizing the jazz aspect of Blue Food’s brand of prog. Odin Alvarez has the difficult job of keeping track of the songs behind his drums while finding the perfect intonations for every mood of every song. On the frenetic “Chef!,” Alvarez’s subtleties are often Herculean in their delivery as the song changes direction multiple times. Wilhelmus Sapanaro creates intricate labyrinths of bass lines beneath the surface of each song. Engines’ first song, “Boogiemen,” even opens with his canorous bass, similar in sound to prog-rock legend Les Claypool’s bass techniques. Lastly, Miles Ungar’s guitar-playing amps up this release, switching between quiet, Phaser-induced modulated chords and all-out, grandiose guitar solos. His instrumental breaks during the songs provide a chance to hear how tight the band is together, as no one oversteps with their respective instruments.
In conjunction with the skillfully played music, the lyrics, too, provide a niche alcove in the lexicon of progressive-rock for Blue Food. Not content with songs about love or dancing, this outfit seeks the divergent and peculiar. Opener “Boogiemen” takes its moniker from old horror stories told to children, and the band plays up the creepy factor with lyrics like “Lock the door, shut the windows, and close your blinds / You hear a creaking in the floor / A bony finger scratching at the door.” Meanwhile, “Alchemists” and “Blizzard in a Sphere” both revolve around offbeat themes one wouldn’t expect to hear. Then, Blue Food offers “The Revolution will be CGI” as the ultimate track. Here, Eduardo compares tumultuous revolting with the process of creating, and the result is absorbing. Like the prog bands that came before them, Blue Food showcase their education, even calling to attention vocabulary relating to the theme of creating: “Without a rising action, there’s no denouement” only to immediately declare “You are revolution.” This could possibly be the most well-written song on the album, giving the listener an enthralling climax to Engines. However, the tricks of the lyrics aren’t used only as mood settings and comparisons. “Chef!” takes the cliche “Can’t stand the heat, then get out” and gives it an original spin about an actual cook with “a roomful of drooling mouths a’waiting / To suck, sup, swallow, and devour whatever’s he’s got.” Not satisfied with just using the cliche like any radio-friendly pop sensation would, Blue Food expertly reverses the typicalness to fit in with their eccentric voice.
In fact, marrying the commonplace with the novel could be the band’s mission statement. Already, their lyrics and their use of standard instruments to create a unique sound accomplishes this. However, the arrangements of their songs increasingly exemplify that contrast. Instead of using the normal format of verse – chorus – verse – chorus for every song, Engines creates interesting structures, a difficult undertaking when most of the songs hover around the five minute mark. The tranquil “Seeds” offers a saxophone solo, a peaceful introduction, a fluid bridge, and verses using an exponential buildup of sounds. “The Revolution will be CGI” has so many left turns, while still maintaining a pleasant flow, that listeners will look forward to the approaching developments in the track. Then, the centerpiece of the album, “Engine of the World,” uses disruptive grooves to propel the piece forward. It’s an anthem that jumps from staccato, aggressive parts to slurring, quiet sections. The sense of equilibrium that the combination generates makes “Engine of the World” the powerful steamroller of the album.
If you’re looking for an album that has radio-friendly potential but still contains the artistic integrity of prog-rock, Engines is the perfect choice. Its talented members have created a bold take on their genre, combining instruments that meld into a surprisingly liquid sound. The lyrics are smart and curious, while the song structures keep things interesting. If the CGI Revolution is underway, Blue Food is leading it.