Nautical by Nature

Blank Blue
Blank Blue's Elvin Estela, right, picks five watery/blue classics (and is Joni Mitchell pissed).

In this week's Sprawl of Sound column, I review Blank Blue's Western Water Music, Vol. II. I had hoped to include a list of the duo's favorite albums with the words “blue” or “water” in their titles, or those with strong allusions to those qualities. Unfortunately, BB's instrumentalist/producer Elvin Estela didn't get the list to me in time for the print edition, but thanks to the generous expanses of the intraweb, I can present his interesting list and explanations on this here blog.

In other news, Blank Blue's album-release party gig at the Airliner in LA last night vividly recreated the disc's aquatically glorious melodies, splashy funk, and immersive bliss.

Without further ado, here are Estela's seaworthy classics…

Songs of Blue, the Sea, and Things in It…

1. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (Caribou, 1977). This album is FINALLY being reissued [by Rhino on June 17]. The Beach Boys were a hard band to accept as cool when I first started college radio at KXLU way back in 1996. All I'd known by them were the songs I'd heard with my parents in Pic'N Save. Lo and behold when I find out that my favorite song by Ladybug Transistor is actually an original by Dennis Wilson! I was flabbergasted! I immediately dug into Pet Sounds, but found their '70s albums much more fascinating, especially Sunflower, Surf's Up, and this special album by Dennis. They were given state-of-the-art recording equipment and they utilized it perfectly. The production and special effects on their records from this time are just insane. This record is heartbreaking, and the aforementioned song I spoke of is called “Special Angel,” [which] perfectly epitomizes the beauty, trippiness, and sadness that is woven throughout this album. When I think of the color that Pacific Ocean Blue would be, it's always the deepest blue imaginable.

2. Shocking Blue – Shocking Blue (Pink Elephant, 1969). Most known for their hit “Venus,” this Dutch band specialized in sitar-tinged freak pop that was simultaneously funky and psychedelic. This is their second album but first to feature Mariska Veres on lead vocals. She pretty much steals the show here, adding perfect drama at times and at other times reserved cool. Nirvana were even moved enough by this band to cover “Love Buzz” as their first single. Shocking Blue really fits the band, as the only color Shocking Blue could really be is the beautiful blue that emanates from Mariska's icy stare!

3. The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia, 1968). No blue or body of water in the title, I know, but when it comes to creating aural image of the sea, look no further than this album and its nautical classic, “Dolphin Smile.” Roger McGuinn opens the tune with some bizarre guitar effects, meant to make his guitar sound like the squeals of a dolphin. From there the song breezes by on a sweet ascending and descending melody that truly creates the image of cruising through the sea. As he sings, “Out at sea for a year/ Floating free from all fear,” he makes being a water mammal seem like the coolest thing in the world. The middle section is a psychedelic freakout with more McGuinn dolphin squeals and swirls of effects. A perfect little aquatic symphony.

4. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (Track, 1969). Specifically “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be).” My friend Steve (AKA Plastic Crimewave) pointed out the similarity between my Blank Blue idea and this song, so I immediately started listening to it a ton. Hendrix, as McGuinn had done with “Dolphin Smile,” really uses his guitar to create an underwater sort of sound, even the way he plays the main riff is a bit lose and watery. The song is an amazing epic journey, one that seems appropriate if you are turning into a merman, and yet it still comes back to the main theme at the end of the song. Jimi had a way of making the pictures appear in your mind with his production, which is insanely ahead of its time and under-appreciated due to his insane skills on the guitar. Songs like this and “Are You Experienced?” really show that he had a [futuristic] vision, and show that he had the talent and drive to make sure it was alway fully realized.

5. Wendy N Bonnie – Genesis (Skye, 1969). For a perfect creation of a song dedicated to the sea, look no further than this female duo's stunning “By the Sea.” Using the sea as a metaphor for their heartbreak, the song spins a stunningly [moving] and beautiful tale of loss. The combination of their voices needs to be heard to be believed and the minimal instrumentation provided by the mighty Skye session players creates an atmosphere that is definitely aquatic and liquid. There is little more than cymbal splashes, chimes, subtle guitar harmonics and acoustic guitar, but its effect is simultaneously spacey and intimate. The rest of this album is also highly recommended.

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