The unsettling cover of the new album by the Detroit based Blueflowers, In Line With the Broken Hearted, is a perfect image for the unsettling music within. The cover, a reproduction of San Francisco artist Michael McConnell’s Hunting the Surface, is a picture of a young girl’s body crowned with an owl’s head. She sits back on her heels and in her hand holds a sling shot. The owl peers menacingly directly out at the viewer. Other than the jarring juxtaposition of the girl’s body and owl’s head the picture has the look of something a 19th century illustrator of Alice in Wonderland or a Beatrix Potter might have painted. McConnell’s painting is in some sense a subversive attack on the sentimental sweetness of this kind of pastel world. What McConnell does in this painting is what The Blueflowers do with their music.
There is, at times, a sweet soft pop sound to the music reminiscent of an earlier time that contrasts with a pervasive darkness which dominates the lyric content. The songs, written by guitarist Tony Hamera and vocalist Kate Hinote, a husband and wife team, are filled with (not to sound pretentious) a kind of post modern irony which depends on the clash between style and content. Songs centered on dysfunctional relationships are sung with an almost angelic purity that contrasts with the heartbreak of their content.
Kate Hinote’s voice can soar from girlish sweetness to dramatic peaks. At times it has a haunting ethereal quality, at times a folksy intimacy. With few exceptions the sweetness of the melodies suggest the fragility of relationships, and even when the music takes a darker turn, as in the throbbing “Make Me Stop” which ends the album, there is still an impressive soaring vocal energy.
The songs on the album run from the sixties pop feel of “Maybe” to the country sound of “Even Now,” from the infectious Latin flavors of “The Lovely Ones” to the pulsating rhythms of the title song. It is a set list that has something for everyone. These are songs that will sing in your head long after you’ve shaken the buds out of your ears.
The lyrics are both intense and literate. There are the conceit like metaphors “You Are the Radio (I Am Your Song)” and “One Hand Away From Out.” “In Your Shadow” which opens the album has all sensual imagery of a fine poem laid out with dramatic passion in the vocal arrangement, while the equally sensual bitter imagery of “When It Started” is hidden in a soft lilting melody. “Maybe” takes banal teen pop and turns it on its head. “Hesitate” is a darker take on “fantasy gone” when “the clock won’t stop racing.”
Besides vocals, Hinote also plays a little piano and Hamera who produced and engineered the disc also plays some organ and percussion. Erica Stephens is on the bass guitar, David Johnson the acoustic guitar, and Jim Faulkner plays drums and a little organ. Stephen Masucci has a guitar solo and Al Bongiorno plays trumpet on “Make Me Stop.”
In Line With the Broken Hearted is the band’s second album. Watercolor Ghost Town, their first album, seems to have been built with a similar aesthetic: dark melancholy couched in sweet melody. Hamera says: “We were going for a dark, moody, yet song-oriented record, utilizing as much analog gear and period instrumentation as possible. Think Phil Spector meets David Lynch,” he concludes. You can check out some of the band’s music on the The Blueflowers website and get an idea of the results.