Their website describes them as a ‘genre-smashing trio’, but there has to be some clue to their style in the fact that they’re signed to Hubro, purveyors of Norwegian jazz. Having said that, the same website finds members of the band recommending things as diverse as Mariam The Believer’s album, CuraMed throat pastilles and a recipe for chunky oven chips, so perhaps approaching Bly De Blyant with a completely open mind is the right approach.
There’s their first album to consider as context, of course, and Bly De Blyant’s debut, ABC, was a more sprawling, fragmentary record. Drummer Øyvind Skarbø has said that he wanted Hindsight Bias to be a more integrated album: although it was recorded using the same method as ABC – all three musicians in an instrument-filled room with no headphones – it uses less improvisation and feels much more controlled. But the idea of control seems to be a fairly relative one when Bly De Blyant is the band under discussion.
Opening track Jiddu fools you into thinking that you might be in for a Moon Duo-like record of hazy psychedelia. The rich, clean guitar lines that coagulate at the outset are suggestive of post-rock, but they’re soon twisted into a series of more spaced out riffs. But it’s followed by Westkreuz, which is jazz-funk from the get go, with the James Brown style guitar over a shuffling bass groove. There’s a subtle shift as the song develops: it begins with guitar in the foreground and organ in the background, before the two change places. The title might just be a krautrock allusion, and comparisons with Can certainly wouldn’t be out of place here.
Laura is the most accessible and poppiest track, but it wouldn’t be uninformed to describe it as the strongest song on the album. Skarbø apparently wrote it after the bassline came to him in a dream, leading one to wonder whether it might be possible to get hold of a few of whatever sleeping pills he’s been taking. That literally dreamed-up bassline grinds along throughout a disco track that stays on just the right side of porn groove, though it’s not entirely without sleaze. The bizarre masterstroke, however, is the fact that there’s also a banjo jangling away in the mix. And if you’re first thought is that a banjo would completely ruin a funky Nile Rodgers disco track, then Laura will prove you wrong.
Elsewhere there are more ambient sounds. The title track is a glassy soundscape that edges towards the point of structure but refuses to become bound up in it, and DEFGHIJKL introduces bagpipes to the array of instrumentation yet manages not to be overwhelming or oppressive.
Then there are heavier moments, such as the industrial-sounding rhythm section of Bunker Hill, and the frenetic Michael Jackson Pollock. The latter is interesting, not just because it takes a detour into math-rock, but because it seems to demonstrate how prog and math-rock have roots in jazz. The skittering, cymbal-heavy percussion recalls bebop as it’s augmented by guitar parts that veer between tightly coiled and incredibly loose.
After all of that, the last thing you expect from closing track The Eighteen Transcibles is a folk/post-rock/krautrock amalgam with an ambient banjo breakdown. But maybe that’s exactly what you should expect. The beauty of this album is that it confounds expectation. Owing as much to Miles Davis as they do to Faust, Bly De Blyant seem to wilfully defy definition, and in doing so they establish their own stylistic parameters. It’s not that they are subverting genre, nor that they are unaware of its limit, but that they know exactly how to step beyond them while retaining their footing.