I had an immediate interest in Blue Water White Death, for a few key reasons but the primary one being that it is a collaborative project of Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater, ex-Okkervil River) and Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu). Admittedly, my interest lies decidedly with the former, being a fairly ardent fan of Shearwater, as well as having enough familiarity with Xiu Xiu to qualify as non-existant. Plus, I am consistently intrigued by, and attracted to, music with watery-type themes and/or aesthetic.
In the interest of balance, I have gone and briefly educated myself with all of two songs by Xiu Xiu, thus making myself only slightly less uninformed about half of the contribution to BWWD. From what I have gleaned, I feel confident enough to at least say the collaboration is not alltogether unsurprising, nor are the results.
Unsurprising, however, is not to be taken as disappointing – I have been very much enjoying this album over the last couple of weeks. Falling more into what most would deem as the ‘experimental’ realm, which often is just another way of saying it doesn’t quite fit in with your more traditional song structures, rather than necessarily indicating anything truly experimental, as much of the techniques employed here are familiar in one way or another. The watery aesthetic previously mentioned is present throughout the (and here is the disappointing part) comparitively brief 33 minute running time. The name itself is taken from a 1971 documentary that depicted a team’s expedition to track a great white shark, spanning nine months and led them from South Africa to my very own country – and state – South Australia.
I do think this stands a higher chance of appealing to Shearwater fans than it does to those of Xiu Xiu (that is, if you’re a one or the other only fan), which is not bias (hopefully), but judged by the immediate recognition I personally had with it, leading me to conclude that it lies a little left of the middle and towards the Shearwater camp. (On a side note: any Xiu Xiu fans that disagree, a) awesome, and b) let me know if I’m wrong and unfairly misrepresenting Jamie Stewart’s presence).
Of course, that’s not to say that if you love Shearwater you’ll definitely dig this, as it is quite unlike their particular brand of sweepingly majestic folk. Although tracks like Gall and lead single Song For the Greater Jihad do come pretty close to their more quietly spoken tracks. If I broke it down into individual elements, I’d have to mention things like ambient, electronica, folk, drone and even good old fasioned rock, all of which are part of the make-up, with varying degrees of subtlety and pace.
Interspersed with the elements is an ever present sense of being on an old, sea-weathered boat (another reaon I feel like it has much kin with Shearwater, as I often get a similar impression – particularly on their last album, The Golden Archipelago). This is from an overall, but underlying, suggestiveness inherent in many of the sounds – occasionally slightly warbled vocals, fairly prominent wooden creaks and moans, as well as a few other sound effects that are similar to what you might imagine deep sea divers hear (you can take that last part to also mean ‘sounds like some of the sound effects in movies after the submarine has been submerged‘. Or even those old sci-fi movies where small pods would float around in deep seas, usually containing scientists or brave adventurers, who would inevitably wind up battling – or being eaten by – unusually large sea creatures). Thankfully, it’s generally used in far more refined measures than my analogy might indicate.
There is a delicate beauty to the album that is slightly twisted – or perhaps it’s the eye of the beholder that has been altered instead – either way it keeps it interesting over simply relying on pretty appeal. This is most noticeable in the difference between deceptively light track titles and the lyrical content. Take This Is The Scrunchyface of My Dreams, for example, the album’s opener. First glance and it might cause a grin, even a giggle, but you only need to pay a little attention to the lyrics (there’s a darkness in you that I want to unfurl / little girl, and later, battered birds pour from the windows / and the body the body the body released, then to the final line – written in caps in the booklet – LOVE GROWS IN ME) to recognise there’s something deeper than lighthearted affection going on under the surface of things. The same can be said for the other 7 tracks on the album, and perhaps – if we are on a boat – these songs are coming from below the deck, where more intriguing stories are told ,accompanied by the hushness of the audience and the sounds of the sea knocking on the hull.
Blue Water White Death’s self-titled debut is currently available from Graveface Records, in LP, CD and digital formats. I do highly recommend paying them a visit, the CD is an unbelievably good value-price of US$10.00, which includes shipping to anywhere, plus all sorts of crazy things the guys who package their orders find appropriate (mine arrived with a torn out page from a colouring book, a most considerate crayon so that I could colour it in, puzzle pieces and a piece of bubblegum – nifty!)
If you’re the ‘try before you buy’ type, you can get a free download of Song For The Greater Jihad via Stereogum.