Trembling Blue Stars
Alive to Every Smile
It’s inevitable, I guess. Come up with one good idea and you’re pigeonholed for life. Take Trembling Blue Stars frontman Bob Wratten, for instance. He’s forever expected to continue the styles he pioneered in the now-defunct UK indie group Field Mice. Old fans ridiculed Broken By Whispers, the second TBS release, as “techno garbage,” according to the Sub Pop Web site. This is not just contempt prior to investigation, it’s also a shame.
To label the Trembling Blue Stars “techno” – let alone “techno garbage” – is akin to dismissing Shakespeare’s Othello as a “psychological thriller.” It means that the subtleties have gone unnoticed. Of course, I don’t necessarily put Wratten on the same plane as Shakespeare, but the former has issued an excellent album that merits more respect than it has received so far.
Alive to Every Smile. is the fusion of tradition and experimentation, the natural and digital. The grind and sway of “Under Lock and Key,” a foundation heavily indebted to an electronic element, is offset by Wratten’s simple vocals (“You’ve got to stop fucking her up,” he orders) and an immaculate guitar riff. This track is followed by the drum loop of “With Every Story,” which sets a basic rhythm for the dreamlike, interstellar conflation of guitars and vocals. Notice the pattern here? Wratten’s art is that of knowing when to program and when to play. It’s silly to think you have to be confined to one or the other. There is a fragile beauty underlying the whole of Alive to Every Smile, and I believe it stems from this confluence of the intensely human with technological sophistication. The main drawback is that this sort of talent is too easily overlooked.
Last week or so, Seattle’s Orpheum Records e-mailing billed Alive to Every Smile as its number one seller, which may show that a formerly hostile ex-fanbase is finally coming to its senses. One can only hope that this revelation continues to take place in several more cities, here and abroad.