Spaciousness was the name of the game on Lincoln indie folk band blét’s 2015 debut full-length “Borrowed from the Breeze,” whose slide guitars and meditative vocals stretched for miles, from one end of a rural sunset to the other.
While most tracks worked well in this framework — one in which pianist Spencer McCoy and guitarists/vocalists Joseph Kozal and Cole Keeton each traded percussion duties — climaxes sometimes hit less with instrumental force than with sonic depth. Now a four-piece with drummer Alex Durrant (of Giant’s Arrow), blét has returned with its most realized set of songs yet, “Suddenly Able to See in the Dark,” which dropped on May 4.
Recorded in November 2017 with Lincoln producer Jeremy Wurst (The Way Out, Evan Bartels, Giant’s Arrow) at Flat Black Studios in rural Iowa, “Suddenly Able to See in the Dark” is a product of those surroundings — fit for looking out the window from a deepwoods cabin brightened by candles and treetop-obstructed morning light.
The expanded lineup marks a logical step forward for the band. After taking on Sigur Rós ambience, blét now has the means to put the “rock” in “post-rock,” without shedding hardly any of the atmospherics on which they’ve relied in the past. With its tender vocals reminiscing and illustrating, its complementary guitar plucking and piano setting a pensive pace, and Durrant’s drums both adventurous and sharp, “Suddenly” seems like the album blét always wanted to make.
Where past blét records nimbly navigated space through dueling guitar delay and sparsely minimalistic percussion, Durrant guides tracks on “Suddenly” in a more urgently structured direction, making each chord progression’s twists and turns that much more purposeful.
Take album opener and lead single “Wild Animal,” whose verses are drawn-out soundscapes swirling with Keeton’s and Kozal’s deft harmonies, McCoy’s haunting piano accents and acoustic and electric guitars battling for supremacy in the left and right channels. But if Durrant’s galloping hi hat-snare beat and mood-setting kick drum were replaced with the intermittent, linear floor tom hits of blét’s earlier work, the song would lose so much of the momentum Durrant builds. This reworked blét is a better, fully realized blét.
A pair of tracks, “Gethsemane” and “Lord Knows,” even use 808’s for percussion, which, along with the former’s fluttering synths and the latter’s indie pop guitar stylings, call back to Ben Gibbard’s early-2000s work in The Postal Service. The Gibbard comparison isn’t isolated to just those two songs, either, as many tracks, like album closer “In the Wrong,” feel like forward-thinking extensions of Death Cab for Cutie’s folkiest work, adding in doses of dream pop wistfulness and post-rock peaks and valleys.
For the most part, that’s where blét’s sonic wheelhouse lies — in taking verse-chorus-verse structures and layering each section with countless, varied instruments. Perhaps that in itself is a nod to Wurst’s production acumen. Even with the instrumentally dense mixes, he breathes air into the tracks. Never do the mixes feel like daunting walls of sound with every instrument squeezed in at the same volume, but instead like warmly expansive invitations into a lush garden of blooming reverb guitars and piano flourishes.
blét does make room to step out of its comfort zone and into other genres on a few tracks, most notably “Still.” At its core, “Still” is a pop-influenced alt-country tune, as if Counting Crows turned emo and wrote a call-and-response campfire song. That shouldn’t be read as a slight, though, because blét pulls it off, especially with its affective lyrics describing a longing for the past while inevitably falling into the future’s clutches.
The record’s lyrical subject matter tends to revolve around making amends with life’s natural progression and the ever-changing learning curve that comes with it. The subject is best tackled on late-album tracks “Wrapped Up” and “In The Wrong,” the latter of which explores the narrator’s struggle to see the world as it exists around him, and, more importantly as it exists in his partner’s eyes after a disagreement. Keeton sings “Where’s the last laugh hiding in the room/can you find it if you’re all alone?/‘Cause I gotta know, you gotta tell me if I’m in the wrong.” In such lyrics, Keeton and Kozal break universal human experience into palatable bites, where traits like empathy, though difficult to truly internalize, can be examined from an outside perspective.
All components put together result in blét’s best work yet, on which Keeton and Kozal embrace their surroundings — rolling through existence like the endless horizon Kozal sings about on “Still.” With blét’s robustly reinvigorated sound and freshly analyzed consciousness on “Suddenly Able to See in the Dark,” the band has made peace with its members’ firmly Nebraskan roots, and the music blét was destined to make has welcomed them.