The Living Blue: Fire, Blood, Water (Minty Fresh)

A courageous yet confident release, a mish-mash of sounds just this side of disparate.

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Just four words made this disc stand out from all the other unknowns in the pile: “Produced by Adam Schmitt.” With that kind of claim, I had high hopes for this brash, young four-piece from Champaign. Fire, Blood, Water, their Minty Fresh debut (and second Schmitt-helmed offering), is a courageous yet confident release, a mish-mash of sounds just this side of disparate.

“State of Affairs” kicks off the disc with a dash of old-school garage rock, heavy on the guitars and punishing beats. “Murderous Youth” is equally unforgiving, with fast-paced crashing guitars and a clear, clipped vocal delivery. On “Tell Me Leza,” though the guitars are equally prominent, they’re a little more melodic. There’s more of a Brit-pop edge to this track; you can almost discern an English accent in Stephen Ucherek’s lyrical delivery which, when pushed, very nearly resembles the late Jim Ellison of Material Issue.

“Serrated Friend,” the intended first single from the album, further pushes the Anglo envelope. This song, catchy and rock-driven, would fit well with any of the current crop of British hot and hip: the Cribs, the Subways, Babyshambles. “Greenthumb” is an upbeat song in a similar vein, with a sprinkling of Doors-sounding keyboards. And then there’s “She Bleeds Pink,” which stands out from the pack. Joe Prokop’s guitar is more subdued behind Ucherek’s reaching vocals on the refrain, while Mark Shroeder’s rapidfire drums and Andrew Davidson’s bass anchor the pinpointed guitar lines during the bridge. Newfound nuances spring forth with each listen; truly, this song’s rich.

Next up, “Secrets” is a return to garage mixed with psychedelic rock; the vocals are murky and the guitar work sword-fighting and far-reaching. Ucherek’s near-yelping vocal styles elevate “One Beat” above garage, while “Wishlist” wears its Union Jack with pride. Closing out the disc, “Conquistador” is a six-minute exploration into precision guitars and indolent vocals: imagine the White Stripes backed by a full band.

Fire, Blood, Water isn’t groundbreaking, but then, what is these days? More importantly, it’s the ultimate compliment, both to today’s listener and yesterday’s master. Blending the best bits from a variety of rock ’n’ roll subcategories, the Living Blue have crafted a sound that is creative, innovative, challenging, and wholly pleasing. Highly recommended.

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