One of the biggest challenges in writing about music is avoiding tired tropes of analogy and metaphor — “This group sounds like the Beatles” or “This artist is similar to Miles Davis.” How, then, does one articulate the stylings of Blues Control, a duo who merges a confounding number of genres into a product with no singularly inimitable sound?
“Sometimes it’s hard for even us to describe some of the music we play,” said Russ Waterhouse, one half of the Lehigh Valley-by-way-of-Brooklyn band. “We’re deliberate in our composing and playing, but yeah, some of the elements are kind of tricky to explain.”
Blues Control is avant garde, to say the least. They’re at an intersection where formal and experimental classical music, rock, jazz, new age and organized noise converge. Multi-instrumentalists Waterhouse and Lea Cho previously made ambient soundscapes together under the moniker Watersports before conceiving Blues Control with more rock-oriented accentuations in mind.
The duo now tours in support of its third album, “Valley Tangents,” released last year on the indie label Drag City. Whereas previous Blues Control records, such as 2009’s “Local Flavor,” are meant to be played straight through, with a subtle sense of expansion easing the listener through the album track by track, the songs on “Valley Tangents” stand as their own entities. Tones and timbres vary across the record, from Cho’s austere piano sonata “Open Air” to the warped stadium kraut-techno of “Iron Pigs,” named for Lehigh Valley’s minor league baseball team.
Blues Control’s strongest moments arrive when the parallelism and contrast of Cho’s keyboard work and Waterhouse’s guitar is well-defined. “Love’s a Rondo” is a distorted jazz samba that glides along with Cho’s brisk figures; Waterhouse conjurs up hazy murk below her and occasionally the two are in unison on pleasing melodic lines. The closing track “Gypsum” sees sustained, reverberated synthesizer lines giving way to a funky R&B coda, with Cho and Waterhouse trading solos.
“(The piano and guitar interplay) was something we wanted to emphasize more for this new record,” Cho said. “The lines we’re playing may splinter off and seem dissonant to each other at times, but there’s still a melodic relationship throughout.”
Such a left-of-the-center act no doubt attracts a left-of-the-center audience — jazz heads, hipsters, audiophiles and eccentrics — and the duo strives to make a live Blues Control experience an inclusive, fun one.
“Our concerts aren’t meant to be a serious, pious experience,” Cho said.
“Some people listen attentively,” Waterhouse added. “Some people dance to the danceable parts. Do what the music makes you feel.”