The Parson Red Heads have a storied, nearly mythical reputation in their adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, as scholars of the back-porch jangle-pop sometimes referred to as Americana. That kind of renown can be distracting, but despite it, or perhaps because of it, the Red Heads have produced a series of excellent, expansive records thanks to close-knit woodshedding and constant gigging.
The band’s third record Orb Weaver was a sneak peek into the auditory fireworks the band was capable of igniting. Their new long-player Blurred Harmony—engineered and produced entirely by guitarist Sam Fowles—augments their down-home charms into something more nebulous, philosophical and more cerebral than any of their previous releases.
Operating under a thematic arc of the phenomenons and pains of linear time, the album injects its conceptual palette with both obvious ruminations (“Time After Time,” “Time is a Wheel”), and more abstract pontification (“Today is the Day,” “Waiting on the Call”). In either case, the progress of existence is a prickly pear for the Red Heads on Blurred Harmony, and coaxes some of the band’s most rapturous, personal expressions to date.
Opener “Please Come Save Me” flutters in a Fleetwood Mac groove, with guitarist/vocalist Evan Way and Fowles’ warbling leads orbiting Neil Young rhythmic jitters thanks to the steady thrum of drummer Brette Marie Way. The song blossoms purposefully, allowing for the Red Heads’ Americana tentacles to slither and coil around a cosmic jam that finally breaks after a minute-and-a-half with Way singing dreamily, “Days like this I remember things that I tried to forget.” As the tune chugs along, Way confronts his past with a nose toward the future in the determined line, “The future cannot tell me I’m wrong or make me sigh.” It’s heady stuff from the band, who are equally as ballyhooed for their exploratory affinities for late ‘60s psych as they are for their anthemic songcraft.
“Sunday Song” floats on a plume of smoky leads and an easy-does-it beat, again slowly evolving from a long, trippy intro into a David Gilmour flashback that flexes and contracts at all the right moments. “Time is a Wheel” seeps feel-good harmonies and breezy, jangly rock that despite its relative non-flashiness most dutifully typifies the Red Heads’ satisfying stranglehold on stoney, county fair power-pop.
If it’s possible for the record to get any more space-y, that can be found in its final three tracks. The psychotropic “Out of Range” is a stunted trip replete with one of the album’s more intoxicating harmonic verses, with Way and Fowles singing, “Sorry I fell out of range/The part that was so strange/is I was always there.” The song is over just as it’s about to lead you into a spiraling tailspin to the benevolent foot of the Overmind, when the aptly titled “In a Dream” clears the aural cobwebs with a delightful Chris Bell homage. The song’s potent drive clears yet another trippy path to the album-ending sound collage “Nostalgia on the Lakefronts.” This is the cosmic broadcast from the band’s internal, time-fearing transmissions, and is a bizarre but fitting way to close the book on Blurred Harmony.
The Parson Red Heads took things into their own hands for their new record, and turned the rear view on the preceding three-and-a-half years since Orb Weaver to get a long, close look at themselves. The resultant exposition of smart, lucid songwriting and willingness to take skewed stances on established modes of sound is refreshingly blurry, and a fantastic soundtrack to the psychoses of your summery, sunny days.