Review Summary: you never kiss me when we're dancing / you just grab my shoulders tryina wake me up
The third and most important time I heard Blushing
, something fever-ish was taking me over and my head was putting me to sleep to fix the problem. Okay cool, so I was sick once, but I mention this because it was hyper-specific to the album – drifting between waking and dreaming at 4am, already in an abnormal state of mind and predisposed to wandering along tangents, I think I fully understood Aaron Marsh's vision for the beguiling, unpredictable, quiet series of fever dreams that is Copeland's sixth album.
I say 'series', but thing is, it might all be the one dream. The female voice in "Pope", alternately dreamy-idealised-girlfriend and harshly concrete, reappears on "It Felt So Real". 'We were dancing, and there were people everywhere but no-one could see us, no-one else could hear the music' she says, and it's like the Upside Down version of "Chin Up" with that song's warm and inviting atmosphere replaced by something unsettling. Fragments of ideas reappear like motifs: laying vs. crumbling at a lover's feet, dreams vs. wakefulness, a world that's not as real as it seems. If Blushing
is a concept album, it's the most disjointed and unpredictable one I know. It's also the album I've always wanted Copeland to make without realising it, way back to when I first heard "The Last Time He Saw Dorie", how it blended ambient and classical influence into a fundamentally emo-as-fuck tale of heartbreak. It was the moment where I saw the underground lake of possibilities beneath this band's unassuming, calm surface.
isn't anything like a previous Copeland album, let alone an album I ever imagined they could make in my loneliest, most boring high school days listening to "The Grey Man" on repeat. It's not the ridiculous "Not So Tough Found Out", maybe the only song that can realistically be mentioned in conversation with Jimmy Eat World's "Goodbye Sky Harbor", nor is it the busy, all-genre excursions of Ixora
or its twin. My best swing would be to refer to "Lavender", a cut so aggressively un-Copeland it's barely recognisable. There, Marsh's low detached vocal played over simple electronics, barely a melody let alone a harmony to be found in the jagged loop. Not a bad instinct to follow, but Blushing
does anything but stick to a formula, even when that formula is to make music that sounds nothing like Copeland.
Not a single song passes without a left-field moment so fantastic you kick yourself for not seeing it coming. There's the A Moon Shaped Pool
-style piano elbowing its way into "As Above, So Alone" complete with creepy backmasked low vocals, "Suddenly"'s ridiculous brass band section which ends as abruptly as it begins, "Colorless" breaking into a liquid guitar solo punctuated by borderline yells like a fragment of Foxing found its way onto this record. This is complication translated into Copeland's language: each additional layer remixes the quiet beauty into something even more weird or offbeat, never allowing the songs to become crowded or uncouth. This gets a big assist from the production, some of the best I've heard: "we think about the record from a producer's angle [...] a holistic view of the record", the band say in the press release, and it shows.
Aaron Marsh is still talking about love, loss and dancing with people, but he's writing about dreams of these things rather than their literal counterparts. It's an improvement in every way: where his lyrics in the sun-dappled days of Copeland would have slipped into saccharine had they been sung by a less golden voice, here he's distorting not only his perfect vocals but also the words he's saying, leaving trails of clues to impressionistic landscapes all over the tracks. When he says the album-defining 'this world is not real' on "Pope", it's not some Black Mirror shit about us living in a simulation or whatever, just a simple observation about the dream that takes place over this album. No matter how you want to stay in it forever, even if it perfectly evokes complete love (which Marsh has always had a talent for doing better than almost anyone else– see 'I'll be kissing rhythms from your neck / chasing melodies around your skin') you have to wake up eventually. In the other album-defining moment, he makes a simple choice: 'the things that I would dream with my head like that / I'll watch the day appear instead'.
If you'll permit the self-reflection, this is the reasoning behind my choice of lyric for the summary. All of Blushing
is concerned with the tension between love in reality and the love of
dreams. It's chasing a feeling so potent you never consider you're not awake until you round the corner and the solid ground drops away and the indie rockers are having a smooth jazz breakdown. My instinct is to find something to compare it to, like 22, A Million
if Justin Vernon had fucked around with brass and strings instead of vocal aerobics, or Blond(e)
's use of pitch and distortion as characters in the narrative. Those are starting points, but they're still too grounded in reality, and I find myself feeling reductive when I refer back to them. The Copeland I imagined listening to "The Last Time I Saw Dorie" is here, undoubtedly, in the percussion-less chamber pop half of "On Your Worst Day" where Marsh's voice seems on the verge of disappearing out of rhythm and metre completely. But there are dozens of other bands in here too – in the second half of that song alone, where it switches up to Marsh talking about making his lover cake over an R&B beat that's straight up sexy, and in every unbelievable, bold discursion these strange songs take. I can't be bothered with comparisons for all of it, so my advice？ Dream up your own album and see how it compares to Blushing
"I wake but layers of a dream / lay over everyone I see"