In 2009 singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Boris Skalsky took part in a sleep study, perhaps as a way to allay some in-between-record boredom. It all went well, but Skalsky’s bountiful imagination would take the experience into the darker corners, penning in retrospect a song called “Strange Waves” that would become the title track of Dead Heart Bloom’s third full-length effort and summoning Aladdin Sane-era Bowie— a pulsating, spiraling, glam-tinged masterpiece not unlike mid-career Roxy Music with a lyric that would conjure more of Syd Barrett’s surrealist oeuvre, a piper at the gates of dawn, another sleepless night.
Strange Waves is the latest addition to Skalsky and co-songwriter/guitarist Paul Wood’s growing repertoire of truly classic records, which most recently includes a 3-EP series released back in 2008: Fall In; Oh Mercy; and In Chains, skimming various directions, respectively, dream pop, straight up rock and ambient folk, prompting a flurry of media accolades such as, “A sublime combination of dour, druggy vocals and corkscrewing guitars” (Rolling Stone), “An unusual blend of intentionally unsettling bluesy yet aggressive rock guitar driven music” (CMJ) and "Coming on like the ocean, ancient, enveloping, and with just a little darkness beneath," (Under The Radar).
Strange Waves gives us all the best of the aforementioned EP series and Skalsky’s earlier Dead Heart Bloom records, the Shortlist Prize nominated self-titled debut and Chelsea Diaries, while taking a step into classic zone. "This record was an attempt to take the idea of the 3 EPs— mixing up different styles— and still create a cohesive work of art,” says Skalsky of Strange Waves, “I think we succeeded." Wood adds, "I think musically we were searching for deliberate structures— proper intros, strong choruses and actual middle eights— but retaining the atmosphere and sense of space that's become sonically familiar over the past releases."
And as for the lyrical content, Skalsky comments, "People have commented on my lyrics as being religion or death-centric. I think I've put that behind me. This record is still about the human condition, but more hopeful."
Along with drummer John Hadfield and bassist Nathan Goheen, and a number of guest players, the album is a shimmering magnum opus, the culmination of disparate assets that sees a band truly coming into its own through the medium of nine undeniably great songs.
The launch pad, “Someday Will Not Come Again,” is a bitter dose of the truth shot through a melody that will never go away, then there’s “Sentimental Cures”— a bittersweet dismissal of empty intentions, so crafty that it could have been lifted right off of Revolver or Rubber Soul.
“Meet Me” finds Dead Heart Bloom flexing its more rootsy muscle, a hopeful jangle and plea for company. “Don’t Worry For Me” is a brooder about the breakdown of long-held illusions that never goes too far over-the-top, but still moves like mercury, and “Some Will Rise” is a dose of classic Pink Floyd with a middle-eight that Thom Yorke would kill for. Still, with all of its tonal traversing, Strange Waves holds together like super glue.
The acoustic “Another Mistake,” of which Skalsky comments, "It’s one of those songs, using old obsessions about life and death, but putting that in a different context. I think it's a hopeful song," gives us the languid ramble of Nick Drake, complete with a melancholic regret reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot, but certainly with on-par prowess: a risky limb to go out on, but Skalsky and Wood are no neophytes concerned more about fashion or texture. It’s all about the music, and with truly great songwriters you respect the craft while actually feeling the song. With this lyric, Skalsky is looking back on his life, as if from the threshold of death (that old obsession coming to bear again), and the sentiment couldn’t be more powerfully expressed.
“Fall” is a glorious thing of beauty that feels like the best stuff off of Dark Side Of The Moon, swelling with a colossal chorale refrain that cannot be extracted from the brain, and finally, “Love Will Have Its Day” is a truly lovely piece that is at once melancholic and hopeful, leaving us with the sentiment that, in the end, not only is the love you make and take equal, but that no matter what, it will always prevail.
Overall, Strange Waves is an album that aims higher than most, with a palpable commitment to classic songwriting along with the honing of a cohesive and unmistakable style. There is not much more one can possibly want from a band, but the breadth and depth of this third full-length album is likely just scratching the surface of their collective gifts.