Blaudzun’s “Heavy Flowers” is both penetrating and impenetrable as it swings between sobering and ludicrous.
The key for many listeners will be their response to the vocals of the Dutch performer, aka Johannes Sigmon, which often sound like he’s on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
The tension the brooding Blaudzun brings borders on bombast, a distracting distinction, though not one without benefits.
Arrangements dwell in a purgatory between folk and indie-rock as acoustic guitar and even banjo surface alongside electric squalls.
There’s hand clapping and steel guitar plus high-voltage jolts that, when coupled with the mercurial vocalist, bring to mind Radiohead on an Americana bender or Arcade Fire dialing it down.
Blaudzun is overly taut out of the gate on the escapist-themed opener “Flame on My Head,” his tone unnerving in his neurotic-sounding proclamation, “I wanna go down to the sea again” and his lyrics unintentionally nailing it with, “You be the laughter and I’ll be the joke.”
Yet eventually his method works, the nervous energy drawing together such odd juxtaposition as bracing electricity and music box on “Elephants” (“She talks to elephants, trying to get them to ... sing along”) and riding out the mournful upsweep of the title track. He proves riveting whether he’s driving the mounting pressure of “We Both Know” or casting a sad glow on the comparatively sedate and surreal “Solar,” singing, “It hurts too much to stay, but I won’t let go.”
And even when it doesn’t make much sense, or when the dark layers are too opaque, “Heavy Flowers” still sounds very important. ... That is, until he sounds like Tiny Tim.
But hey, he’s from Holland. So he should know about tiptoeing through tulips.
Rating: 3 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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