With the release of 2020’s self-released, full-length debut, the Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada-based art rock/post punk outfit Blessed — Drew Riekman, Reuben Houweling, Jake Holmes and Mitchell Trainor — received attention for crafting a self-assured, fully formed sound and aesthetic informed by their reverence for their small, rural city, located in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.
Last year’s iii EP saw the Abbotsford-based act further expanding upon their sound and approach: The EP’s material featured glitchy electronics, measured drum work and guitar work that frequently shifted from chiming and cheerful to serrated and snarling with a turn of a phrase, paired with Reikman’s tenor vocals. The EP continued the long-held ethos of collaboration and community that’s been at the center of their work. The self-produced EP was recorded at Vancouver-based Rain City Recorders with vocals tracked at friends’ houses across their hometown. They then recruited four different mixers for each EP’s song — Purity Ring’s Corin Roddick, Tortoise’s John McEntire, Holy Fuck‘s Graham Walsh and the band’s own Drew Riekman.
Blessed’s Drew Riekman credits Fraser Valley’s previous generation of DIY artists with fostering a strong sense of local responsibility, pride and solidarity that the band aims to perpetuate and continue for younger generations. In fact, they do so by attending city council meetings, by booking all-ages shows with local acts and by sharing resources with younger artists leaning the ropes of recording, touring and grant application.
iii‘s material as Riekman said at the time, reflected his own experiences and struggles with anxiety, which at its worse confined him to his home for months at a time. “I really struggled with agoraphobia when I was younger, and still do to this day,” Riekman said in press notes. Frequently, collaborating with members of their community helped create a “feeling of the world getting smaller” and served as a salve for anxiety and uncertainty.
Blessed’s sophomore album Circuitous is slated for an October 28, 2022 release through Flemish Eye. “‘Circuitous: Of a route or journey, longer than the most direct way,” Blessed’s Drew Riekman recites. Interestingly enough, the word is a description of a profound and rare way of creating that makes their sophomore album, much like their previous releases, a singular, moving and unsettlingly committed piece of work.
Circuitous reportedly will further cement and expand the band’s status as a band’s band: a patient, eclectic outfit guided by reverence for and an intense pursuit of an internally-dictated creative agenda focused on musicality, songwriting, performance and artistic growth. The album sonically sees them sharpening their strengths and bringing more depth and expansion into their creative process: The end result is a sweeping, industrial art-rock tragedy rooted in walls of noise, tightly controlled drums, meandering ambient and staccato syncopation that was pulled from hours of jam material and hundreds of demos.
While the album’s eight tracks sprawl, thrash, burst and fall, the album’s material thematically touches upon agoraphobia, isolation, grief, the hyper control of capital and the numbness it breeds.
Last month, I wrote about album single “Anything,” a slow-burning, hypnotic and brooding track featuring looping and shimmering guitars, bubbling electronics, thunderous drumming, and a propulsive and throbbing bass lines paired with Riekman’s plaintive vocals. But at its core, is a song that incisively ridicules modern life.
“The narrative that you can be anything if you work hard enough is absurd. It ignores so many facets of life, development, geography, class, on and on et al,” Blessed’s Riekman says in press notes. “But it pits people against each other in an effort to become ‘something’, a ‘something’ that is loosely defined and shaped by personality rather than a communal vision. It creates a pedestal to put yourself or others on. You’re never good enough, because there’s always someone above you doing more. We’re reaching for unattainable lifestyles, that we don’t even need, that are hyper individualistic and negate the need for community. When you’re looking at the environment you exist in socially as a pyramid, and there’s people you want to be closer to “at the top”, that’s a net negative for anyone. The more accessible we are, and on the level with each other we are in our immediate places, the more we gain.”
“Redefine,” Circuitous‘ second and latest single is slow-burning and patient song centered around dexterous and shimmering acoustic guitar lines and jazz-like percussion paired with Riekman’s achingly plaintive delivery. While sonically “Redefine” may draw comparisons to OK Computer-era Radiohead., the song is rooted longing for much more than the banality of wake, sleep, eat, work until you die.
“The idea that we cannot disrupt the status quo only serves someone with power over us,” Blessed’s Riekman says of the new single’s thematic concerns. “It’s easy to feel that you’re never doing enough, that your mere existence in the face of crushing weights of the world isn’t an act of triumph in itself. We’re generally fed a narrative at this juncture that no one works hard enough, and your circumstances are your own fault exclusively. Being told that the only path forward is working 10 hour days, volunteering your labor to companies that make billions, and that you’ll one day be rewarded is a farce.”
Continuing their ongoing collaboration with visual artists Nathan Donovan and Jacob Dutton, the artists and the band have begun to tease out a unique visual universe through a series of stills, images and video shorts. The duo’s latest video for “Redefine” is the second part of an animated diptych that features the android protagonist of the AI-inspired video for “Anything” in the same claustrophobic maze of corridors and doors. But the video tells a different side of the story: This time, the story unfolds through the perspective of security cameras and computers in an eerily, nondescript office, complete with a coffee mug right in the corner, and some Post-It notes.
Brooding and uneasy suspense are created through long, lingering shots that capture the monotony and banality of modern life. Without being given a clue to whether the viewer is seeing from the perspective of another observer or if they’re a fly on the wall, the viewer is forced to contemplate their complicity and role in the story.