TURN BLUE – Fire Like TV
(2006 Utopian Vendor)
It speaks volumes for the progress of home recording when two guys in Green Bay can record an entire record on a laptop without ever leaving the house, and more impressively, have it sound nearly as polished as any Death Cab For Cutie studio release. Fire Like TV is that record and Nathan Mathes and Mike Seppanen are those two guys. Vocals, guitar, piano and lap-steel are handled by Mathes, while Seppanen assumes percussion, bass and synth duty.
This arrangement served them well in crafting a delicate record of lovely melancholy. Most of the songs wash over you, the words more collections of images and feelings than actual stories, many comprised of only a few sentences. Opening track “Boulevard” has only thirty-three seemingly random words on the lyric sheet, yet through repetition (the innocently evocative phrase “We’re killing on the weekend, baby”) and a few well-placed yeah-yeahs and handclaps (not the joyful kind; think Scud Mountain Boys rather than Beach Boys), it’s completely bewitching, lacking nothing. Amazingly, final track “So Long Summers” is even simpler lyrically, but you would never guess it, the bittersweet farewell to the season is dressed so well in stately piano, quirky percussion (is that a tin can?) and a synthesizer masquerading as a mournful tuba.
Nothing’s as crass or obvious as a cheesehead reference, Turn Blue’s homeland certainly figures into the music, most obviously in reference to the weather. The first line of the rolling “Between the Envelope” is the stark statement “Holy Christ, it’s cold,” while the impenetrable “One: Twenty One” claims, “I hear the East is great in winter when the Midwest freezes up.” And Green Bay’s industrial nature surfaces in songs like “Blue Collar Valley” and “Midwest Winter Workers.”
Even so, the musical comparisons they bring to mind come from well outside the Midwest. “The Lights of Ashland Avenue” and “Deep End” have the snap and electronic jitter of Seattle’s Postal Service, while “Envelope” and “To Not Be Sorry” recall Philly’s Mazarin, and the ghost of Elliott Smith haunts the whole record. “It’s so brand-new to you and me / But it’s all been done along the way,” they claim in “It’s All Been Done.” That may be true, but seldom is it done this well around here.