While the singles “Hate Me” and “18th Floor Balcony” have been getting radio play for months now, Blue October’s new CD, Foiled, had its release pushed back. It has finally come out and the two singles should have been fair signs as to what to expect. And if it wasn’t, the cover art that resembles poop wrapped in foil should have told you.
Ok, let me backtrack just a little bit. Blue October lives in one of the suburbs of my town. I’ve seen them four times in less than a year. They put on a great show. The lyrics are genuine and their sound isn’t overwhelming or underwhelming, matching the honesty of the words. What I am saying is, how you feel about Foiled depends a great deal on what makes you a Blue October fan.
I am a fan because I love the clearness in Justin Furstenfeld’s voice as he sings his touching songs. I love the beautiful violin and great guitar work that accompanies Justin in such a way that you can understand the realness to the emotions behind the words. My favorite songs tend to be the ones where these things come through clearly and leave no doubt surrounding them (“Independently Happy” and “Inner Glow”). If the lyrics alone draw you in, Foiled is definitely a great one to add to your collection. If you’ve ever thought Blue October needed more synthesizers and voice distortion, you will most certainly love Foiled.
I’ve never found myself thinking any band at any time has needed more synthesizer or voice distortion.
Similar to Consent to Treatment and History for Sale, the 13 tracks on Foiled are well written. And they’re catchy. It isn’t a terrible CD and it is quite enjoyable; it just isn’t what I was expecting or hoping for from Blue October.
The problem with Foiled is in its production. I think it is over-produced. There are too many layers to distract you from the beauty of Blue October. It isn’t a low-fi production, but it almost sounds distorted due to all the layers playing on top of each other. And because I’m a fan of Justin Furstenfeld’s voice, the fact that his voice almost sounds as if static is played on top if it in some tracks is not my cup of tea. He almost sounds mechanical. Not to say he isn’t great, but the difference in the sound detracts from the authenticity behind the words. It isn’t as raw and doesn’t really allow those emotions to seep in, take over, and lead you on a journey of your inner soul.
And where is the violin? Did someone tell them the idea is to hide it, because it wasn’t as big a voice as the violin has been on past albums.
“You Make Me Smile” is the first track and has potential. It is almost a pretty song, if not for the electronic distortion and extremely out of place sound that reminds me of an ’80s videogame. I’ve heard them perform this song live a couple of times and it sounds a million times better without these weird additions. I think I could even stand the vocal changes if they got rid of the strange sounds of videogames past.
“She’s My Ride Home” is keeping up with the distortion, but it does give a little break for a bit. I enjoy hearing the beautiful crispness of his voice until the distortion kicks back in, but then I miss it even more than before.
Next is “Into The Ocean” and I am confused. Blue October isn’t some electronic band; not that there is anything wrong with electronic bands, it just isn’t what they’ve been producing before. And the violin is completely buried. This is a guy who can play two violins at the same time, and they’re covering it up! And who is the little electronic girl chanting with the Oompa Loompas?
The violin comes back for the beginning of “What If We Could,” but quickly disappears beneath all the other layers. How do I explain the layer problem to someone who hasn’t heard it? Have you been to a concert when the sound mixer did a poor job and you couldn’t really hear any of the individual voices or instruments, but instead they were all scrambled together into a not-so-pretty sound? That’s what I mean! Perhaps just the screaming or just the breathing or any individual sound, but playing it all isn’t necessary and I find it quite distracting.
A little bit of a break is given with the single “Hate Me” as it is the closest to classic Blue October any one song on Foiled gets. Justin Furstenfeld’s voice is clearer, but still has some bells and whistles. Perhaps the more subtle changes from the single should have been a clue as to the somewhat different direction Blue October was taking with their new album. It’s a cute and catchy song, for sure, and should do very well to branch out and find Blue October a different fan base from what they’ve already established. I think the sampling from “Calling You” in the beginning is odd, as is the message from his mother, but “Hate Me” is a pretty song that really taps into the raw emotions I’m used to from Blue October. And I can hear the violin, which always makes me happy.
“Let It Go” doesn’t let the nice break last long. In fact, after a more classic song like “Hate Me”, “Let It Go” kind of pisses me off. Perhaps it was simply extremely poor planning to put it in that order. Well no, the beginning of it matches beautifully with the previous track. In fact, the first 30 seconds of the song are breathtaking, but then the fucked up vocal distortion starts. It is a simple song with beautiful instrumentation to it. It would behoove them to not distort the vocals on it. It would be an amazing track if they didn’t screw it up with the robotic sounding voice. But they ruined it, and I can’t take the distortion anymore. It’s starting to make me feel some acidic burning in my heart. I hope for all things good in this world, they release a pure version of this song. The harmonica, the piano, everything would be amazing to actually hear. But the vocals…my friend likens it to Justin Furstenfeld and Ned from South Park singing a duet. I think she’s right.
“Congratulations”, Justin can still sing beautifully! Oh wait, “Congratulations” is the name of the song, silly me. The distortion is still there in the chorus, but is it not amazingly wonderful to actually hear his voice? I almost don’t even mind the funky chorus because the rest of the song is nice. So this makes two tracks on my good list so far. But even the funky chorus is working it. Not classic Blue October, but I can like it in small doses. They can work it when they aren’t overproducing it.
“Overweight” starts off with a cute sing-songy quality; perhaps to distract from the fact that they are overwhelming you with the power chords? The charm to the sing-song is lost pretty fast as Justin Furstenfeld is joined by a robotic sounding choir and other warbling. It isn’t a gospel song so I’m not sure what that is about. There’s no doubt the woman can sing, it just sounds out of place.
The start to “X Amount of Words” is nice, but like the other songs with a nice start, the weirdness sets in before 30 seconds have gone by. Talk about some synthesizer! Is Blue October sick of being a rock act? Do they want to move into electronica or something? Seriously, it repeats the same rhythm over and over with some heavy synthesizer, crowd cheering, and more sampling of “Calling You” thrown in. They must really be proud of the success of “Calling You” to sample it on so many of their new songs. I’ll be honest, it is incredibly hard for me to take this song seriously.
I’ve seen Blue October perform “Drilled a Wire Through My Cheek” before and enjoyed it. But something from the recording doesn’t translate into the live performance, which was lucky for me at the concert, not so good for the album. The song is a great song; this is just not a great recording. I think I would like it if I hadn’t heard it live, so I have a different frame of reference for what I think it should sound like. And while I remember the screaming in it, it didn’t sound like maniacal laughter when done live.
“Sound of Pulling Heaven Down” is a wonderful relief to my ears after hearing the previous track. It actually makes me enjoy the distorted vocals singing the ballad. It’s a great song with lovely lyrics. And being familiar with previous Blue October albums, I can only imagine how bone-chillingly beautiful this song would be if there wasn’t the vocal distortion. Seriously, Justin Furstenfeld’s voice is enough to bring me to my knees crying due to its beauty. This song gets close, but not quite there. Not sure about the landing helicopter sound at the end though.
Next is the track “Everlasting Friend.” What? Can I actually hear Justin’s voice from under everything else? It is a sweet song with a very light feel to it. The “oh oh oh” in the background is fitting and is a random sound that finally matches the song!
Foiled ends with the love ballad single “18th Floor Balcony” and I still love this song. Only, after the rest of the album I love it even more. This is the perfect closing track. Hearing Justin sing this, after all the distortion on the other tracks, really shouts out the love felt in the song. It’s hauntingly beautiful and pulls you in. Even if you don’t have someone to love in your life, hearing this song makes you in love anyway — even if just with the song. It makes your heart sing out to Blue October “I am so yours for the taking!” Guess what? I can hear Ryan Delahoussaye playing the violin without it getting covered. “18th Floor Balcony” is like that tasty chocolaty goodness you treat yourself to at the end of the day, only it is a beautiful song at the end of a less than perfect CD.
At the end of “18th Floor Balcony” is a hidden track. Remember the airy version of “Calling You” that is hidden at the end of History For Sale? “It’s Just Me” is similar to that. It is very simple and has pure vocals. Unfortunately, after the beautiful song before it, this track almost doesn’t sound finished.
Writing this, I feel as if I am being harsh. I think it is simply I was expecting so much more from Blue October. There are a few treasured tracks that I’ve enjoyed upon every listen. A few bother me a bit less as I listen to them more. Some of the ones that upset me only do so because I have heard them sung live and they were amazing. It really is a good album, I mean it’s Blue October, after all! I’ll continue to play it and see them in concert as many times as possible. The problem with Foiled is that it gives you mere glimpses into the beauty and completeness of Blue October. It is kind of like this is their first album and then they grow into themselves with the other two, finding their footing and groove with it. The previous Blue October albums were instant loves of mine upon the first listen. Hopefully Foiled will be a love upon a few more listens. Either way, it leaves me with the huge craving to see Blue October live, even if it has been less than a month since I saw them last.
The CD comes with some live videos, but I can’t get them to work. Someone else who can will have to tell me about those down the road.