Review: Blackfield's "For the Music"
Aviv Geffen and Steven Wilson are back together for the band's sixth album.
Blackfield is back with its sixth studio album, For the Music. Since kicking things off with the band’s self-titled debut in 2004 (which was my pick for album of the year), the band — primarily the work of Israeli vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Aviv Geffen — has released some terrific music over the years. Much of it is a dark, melancholic melange of synth pop, keyboard atmospherics, acoustic guitar, and progressive rock, with hints of metal occasionally appearing. Geffen handles much of the vocal work throughout the catalog, with some contributions from Porcupine Tree founder and current solo artist Steven Wilson.
And most of the time it works well. Early listens to For the Music don’t seem to work quite as well for me.
The album kicks off with the title track — the first single from the record — which starts off a bit heavier handed than a typical Blackfield song. It promises something a bit different, and the album is different, but not necessarily in a good way in the end. The chorus is simple (“Thanks for the music, thanks for the music tonight”) but it’s catchy and it feels like this could be a bit of a new direction (and a good one) for Blackfield.
A more “normal” Blackfield-esque song called “After All” follows. A soft number with percussion via hand claps (and drums, eventually) leans on keyboards and piano, along with Geffen’s vocal, heavy with vibrato. There’s not much of a hook to this one. It’s not what you’d call catchy, and in all honesty, it doesn’t go anywhere, although it’s a pleasant enough listen. It’s not one that’ll have you humming it later.
“Garden of Sin” is another soft track that features acoustic guitar and more vibrato Geffen vocals with disturbing lyrics. It’s not unusual for a Blackfield song to be lyrically dark, but this one seems more ham-fisted than most. Wilson has approached similar subject matter and handled it more deftly than this:
So pick your grandma's sleeping pills
And one by one swallow them
Open your dad's secret drawer
And take the gun, take it out
Ask your loved one to come over
And when she comes, shoot her down
We're all in god's waiting list
Here in the garden of sin
A lot of Geffen’s writing for Blackfield seems to deal with existentialism, fear, pain, and loneliness.
“Under My Skin” is the album’s second single and it features catchy backing vocal “oohs” and chimes after a chorus that ends each time with the delightful line, “And I carried you under my skin.” It’s the first hint of a catchy song on the album and it’s one of the highlights of For the Music. Keyboards are the main vehicle for the music and the lyrics are typical for Geffen on the Blackfield releases.
A dream, the same old dream
Over and over
A fear, the same old fear
That paralyzed me
'Cause time it bleeds me out
And I don't belong here
A life, a cruel romance
That ends in tears
The chorus is more upbeat and seemingly hopeful, however, and the juxtaposition works well.
Wilson makes his first lead vocal appearance on “Over & Over,” which is a soft contrast to the preceding “Under My Skin,” with a lovely, delicate acoustic guitar providing a sparse beginning to the arrangement, although a keyboard backdrop lifts the song after the introductory verse. Lyrically it’s pretty typical Geffen fare.
Being alive means to die over & over
Like animals we’re trying to survive
It’s a good song overall, but it seems to tread some of the same ground from Wilson-sung songs on recent releases.
Wilson reaches into his bag of falsetto that he’s favored of late on the ensuing “Falling.” The percussion has an awful electronic tinge and I’d rather they not be there at all, as the keyboards and Wilson’s voice could do the job better without it. The chorus on “Falling” sounds a bit more typical of the last two Blackfield records, with Wilson and Geffen merging their voices over a wash of cresting keyboard waves. The chorus sounds great and will resonate with longtime Blackfield fans. Wilson’s guitar solo is tasteful and is probably the best thing about the song. The verses are probably the worst thing about it.
A third consecutive song with Wilson vocals, “White Nights” comes off a bit Broadway-esque, which might be the intent but it’s not what I turn to Blackfield albums to hear. It’s not too much of a stretch to picture John Travolta sitting in a swing at a drive-in at night, singing a lament over losing Olivia Newton-John. It does, however, have a nice guitar solo. So, at least there’s that.
“Summer’s Gone” begins a bit like a Hopes and Fears-era Keane song, which is a great compliment as far as I’m concerned. The recurring four-note keyboard sequence after each line in the verses —sung by Geffen, who takes back over from Wilson after the previous three songs — screams Keane and it’s catchy and memorable. It’s the most poppy and memorable thing about the album. Still, even this song tails off rather abruptly and seems to quickly run out of meaningful ideas. The songs are short intentionally, but they come off as incomplete at times, and this is one of those times.
The album closes with “It’s So Hard,” which features Geffen’s best vocal from the album. A straightforward love song with piano and strings — whether real or not, I’m not sure— it’s a simple but beautiful song and is my favorite from early listens.
It’s so hard being in love with you
You’re in everything I do
In every Kiss you cut me through
The formula for “It’s So Hard” is executed well and it might be the only time that can be fully said of any of the nine tracks. It’s a pity it took until the end to pull it off.
The internet has shown me several complaints from people about the length of the album, which has a run time of about 30 minutes for its nine songs. I’m not sure the length of the songs (or the album) is the real problem here. For me, it’s about ideas that seem to be merely sketches rather than fully realized songs. That has nothing to do with length. There just feels like something is missing in almost all of them and if the songs were better and more fully realized, no one would grumble about the track lengths all being between three and four minutes. The best albums never overstay their welcome.
Typically, I like the Blackfield songs Wilson sings best, but this isn’t the case with For the Music. The final two tracks, sung by Geffen, seem to be the most complete thoughts on the album and he sings them with more conviction — possibly as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, Wilson sounds great on “Over & Over,” which is a good song.
Perhaps the album will grow on me more with repeated listens, but due to its simplicity I suspect that won’t be the case. Instead, this will go down as one of the weaker Blackfield releases, along with Welcome to My DNA, which might indicate that the band should stick with numbering its albums — Blackfield, Blackfield II, Blackfield IV, and Blackfield V are excellent — instead of giving them names.