Exploration of sexuality and mental health often gets edited out of so much music. The desire to be honest versus the desire to be commercial can result in a great deal of artists who trade in the same stock. Usual love songs, those things that either include rejection, happiness, etc. these themes have been heavily in rotation for literal decades. Moments do exist when there is a fresh sound, a voice calling out from the wilderness to offer something refreshingly different. Terry Blade’s voice is such a voice, and “Misery (Mastered for Headphones)” proves it.
Vocals define the whole of the sound. Akin to Tim Buckley’s “Anonymous Proposition” the arrangements seem to orbit around Blade’s powerful sultry baritone. Delivered with such passion he crafts a world that becomes uniquely his own. Styles do vary throughout the collection for he refuses to settle into anything too comfortable. R&B may be the ultimate framing device, but he also borrows heavily from a singer-songwriter tradition, bringing pieces of folk fully into the mix. The multiple layers help to reveal a colorful cascade. Riffs, melodies, rhythms, these all feel so alive as they unfurl. Best of all the restraint of the accompaniment further lends his lyricism so much power.
Production has a gorgeous, flawless quality to it. Indeed, as the album title states, these songs appear to be aptly suited for headphone listening. The silky-smooth sounds seem to virtually wash over the listener in a glorious haze. References abound throughout the entirety of the EP, some going for a distinctly classic vintage but others much more contemporary. For the classic side of things, he takes from Billie Holiday’s highly personal approach to storytelling. Narratives abound which show off a great degree of vulnerability, exploring taboos topics like mental health in a way that feels compassionate. On the other side of things, going for something more distinctly modern, he takes from electronic as well as R&B. Bjork’s focus on precision and confessional poetics certainly plays a strong role in his music. Moses Sumney’s silky sweet approach, a hybrid art-pop R&B, definitely appears to be involved in a similar intimate take.
Beautiful tones emerge from the acoustic guitar on the powerful opener “The Unloveable”. Lyrics prove to be carefully considered for Blade explores the cycles of depression. Here he shines light upon the harsh thinking that takes over a mind with so many troubles. Guitar chords possess a tremendous amount of color while they have a slight nod towards Bossa Nova. The glistening “The Mentally ill” starts things off with a unique, dreamy ballad. Nearly kept in a dreamworld the whole of the track has a profound quality to it. By far the highlight, the way it evolves gives it a tremendous power. Here he lets the sadness that mental illness brings, the loneliness, perfectly merge with the sorrowful arrangement.
“The Widow” draws from Solange’s effortlessly cool output. Little details matter a great deal from the finger snaps to the very light bass work. Everything has such a great balance to it. Blade’s voice takes front and center stage. Sung with such vigor, there is a bluesy quality that helps to give the whole of the work such poignancy. To that absolute essentials, “The Broken” comes straight from the heart. Little flourishes emerge out to further punctuate the power of his words, the brokenness that comes with misery as well as how hard it can be to get support, to navigate one’s way out of darkness.
A little bit of hope emerges with “The Other Side”. Though this is tempered to a large degree, it does try to offer how to overcome the seemingly endless bleakness that depression and grief bring. No easy answers exist within the lyricism, but this feels refreshing. Instead of trying to present easy solutions, Blade proves to be extraordinarily honest in terms of how to overcome such loss. The journey to happiness is never simple and it is to Blade’s credit that he keeps it truthful. Perseverance reigns supreme over the piece and gives it a moment of clarity. For the finale of “Tick Tock (The Lonely)” everything that preceded it comes into the fray. Bass has a mournful quality to it. Vocals feels particularly affecting on here for the way the song builds itself up happens with such subtle gestures. Electronics further enter into the mix giving things an almost surrealist sort of scope.
Everything about Terry Blade’s “Misery (Mastered for Headphones)” reveals a true artist perfecting his craft and doing so with the utmost of ease.