For years, music has been driven by all sorts of actions and events that would be considered dangerous, even life-threatening from society's general standpoint. For example, how many songs have been a product of an artist's surviving a serious illness or as a result of a traumatic event in said person's life. Furthermore, how many artists have been influenced by witnessing such things happen to other people. Friends, loved ones, perhaps even complete strangers. Music can also be inspired by cataclysmic events to the world, or its inhabitants, be they human or animal. It's no great secret that some of the most beloved music of recent history has come from the fruits of substance abuse. How many songs do you think were written after a good, or heaven forbid, a bad acid trip? More than even you could imagine, to be honest. Still, how many times has mental illness been a key factor in songwriting and composition? At least, in modern terms? Well, it certainly isn't a topic that you hear many musicians citing as musical stimulation too often. The fear that can be derived from the concept of losing your mind; of insanity. It's sickening. Such fears can drive a person to that which terrifies them the most. Hell can be found in your own mind, and, as Justin Furstenfeld shows us, it may not be such a bad place to be.
One night in 1997, Furstenfeld, an established singer/songwriter, awoke from a nightmare in which he had witnessed the very last drops of his sanity pour our of his mind. Once awake, he realized, much to his own horror, that his ghoulish nightmare had come true. "My brain melted that night," Furstenfeld stated in a recent interview with Guitar World
magazine, "I didn't know what planet I was on. I had to commit myself to a psychiatric ward before I became a danger to myself or anybody around me." After recovering, (with the help of a daily dose of the drug Paxil), Furstenfeld began working once again with his Texas-based Alternative rock band, Blue October. On their latest release, Foiled
, Blue October have channeled Furstenfeld's fears, as well as most of their own, into a deep, taught exercise in creating a moody atmospheric pressure to assault a listener's ears. The band's sound, is reminiscent of past progressive rock acts such as Genesis
, indie legends such as The Smiths
(both of which Furstenfeld and the band credit as inspirations), but also recalls the sounds of more contemporary groups, particularly the exploits of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala in At the Drive-In
(another Texas-based band, interestingly enough) and The Mars Volta
. The result is a tumultuous mixing of partially coherent genres each seeming to struggle for attention as Foiled
marches through its paces.
All of Furstenfeld's energy and passion are expressed in the album's first single, the regretful rancor of "Hate Me." Essentially an apology and explanation for his actions during his mental breakdown, "Hate Me" is a powerful anthem of rejection and pure suffering. No wonder all the "scene" kids ate it up, as it was this single that catapulted Foiled
to Gold status in a matter of three months, making it Blue October’s most commercially successful album to date. On "Hate Me," Furstenfeld and his mother take center stage, as he sings:
"I have to block out thoughts of you so I don't lose my head
They crawl in like a cockroach leaving babies in my bed
Dropping little reels of tape to remind me that I'm alone
Playing movies in my head that make a porno feel like home
There's a burning in my pride, a nervous bleeding in my brain
An ounce of peace is all I want for you. will you never call again?
And will you never say that you love me just to put it in my face?
And will you never try to reach me? It is I that wanted space"
On "Hate Me," as well as the rest of Foiled
, Furstenfeld fever-dream vocals and lyrics, are complimented by a variety of instruments. Everything from the traditional dual-guitar setup (played by C.B. Hudson, Justin Furstenfeld), drums (Jeremy Furstenfeld), bass (Matt Noveskey); even the violin, viola, mandolin, and keyboard (Ryan Delahoussaye) make Foiled
an extremely sonically varied album. In addition to this, the album’s vast palette of influence means that from beginning to end, it's hard to believe that you’re listening to the same record. For example, track three the masterful progressive wonder that it "Into the Ocean," sounds nothing like the tenth song, "Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek." The former is a hazy, engrossing epic that ensnares the senses and leaves you begging for more. "Into the Ocean" comes complete with a full-out opera of sounds and sensations, complete with the harmonious sounds of Blue October performing with perfect synergy alongside each other. The former, however, is an angst-ridden piece, devoid of any meaningful thoughts or artful aesthetics, which are replaced by a powerful sense of anger and uniformity. "Drilled A Wire…" has an almost nu-metal vibe to it, which is accentuated by the larger-than-life screamed backing vocals, which may almost trick your ears into thinking that you're hearing the newest Linkin Park
While having a track list this diverse may be nothing new to music in general, it certainly seems to be new to Blue October. While the band performs admirably, they seem to have overstuffed Foiled
with content, perhaps in a bout of indecision about which direction to take. It would be very easy for you to love the album at its beginning, but grow to hate it by the middle or end, due to its lack of coherence. Foiled
also suffers from more than its fair share of filler. Tracks like "What if We Could," with its Eddie Vedder fronting a punk band sounds, are utterly forgettable in the sea of experimentation. The same could be said for the angrier sounding songs in general, which seem to jar you out of a continuity of enjoyable and easy listening. Finally "18th Floor Balcony," contains the annoying "hidden track" ambience that you can find on so many popular album’s ending tracks nowadays. Still, however frustrating these drawbacks may be, they don’t detract too much from Foiled
on the whole to drag the album down.
Blue October are a very interesting band, and with the history that their enigmatic front man has, they seem set to continue on their own path of virtuosity. Blue October
is a fine album, with a few slight flaws. Still, it's a very worthy listen for anyone who enjoys any of the band's that it was influenced by, or anyone who simply likes their music to be curious. Mental illness has proved to be helpful in at least one instance in modern music history. You certainly don't need to be crazy, however, to lose yourself in the hell that Blue October conjure up for you.