Dylan Dickerson is known for his songwriting that grasps the commonality of everyday experience, and his own observations of the same, like all the best songwriters are known to do. While recording Dear Blanca‘s long-awaited and latest release, Perched, the Columbia singer noticed a recurring theme of windows and social voyeurism; “Lots of songs that are sort of vignettes offering a small glimpse into the lives of otherwise unknown characters and lots of reflection on the concept of perspective”, as the singer says. Looking outside and searching backwards, the band has created a soundscape both catchy and challenging. New guitar addition Alex McCollum (borrowed from the equally amazing Stagbriar) adds some color when he isn’t fueling heavier jams and bassist Cam Powell and drummer Marc Coty still round up the formidable rhythm section.
Opener “It Had to Be” is classic Dear Blanca, with an upfront guitar sound built for fans of Modest Mouse-style indie rock and Dickerson’s vocals still maintain his fine form of questioning wonder and hard fought emotionalism. The spoken word intro “Overpass” by punk legend Mike Watt makes full circle Dickerson’s devotion to the SST records ethos that Watt embodies, and it heartens me to see that a younger band still finds the power in the simple yet commanding philosophy of those guys from the ’80s who invented where DIY music now stands. I like how the guitars play off each other, nice harmony lines shredding while making you hum in songs like “Armchair”, a great melancholy tune with that unusual gait that Dear Blanca pulls off so well. After the brief folk interlude of “Out to Pasture” (already the second song to mention windows) the guitar solos and harmony parts return to dominate the longer “Talking to a Brick Wall”, showcasing the new beefed-up Dear Blanca style. The catchy title track first showed up on 2018’s Scene SC Sampler and yet it still fits in with the newer jams. My favorite song here is probably the cover: “I Wonder If I Care As Much” was a countryish Everly Brothers jam and its pretty wild the influence you can hear on Dylan’s vocal style from the original. The early ’70s vibe Dear Blanca conjures up with the wailing guitar/ keyboard intro and outro is fantastic, though and along with the heavy turn at the back end, they managed to totally make the song their own. “Rear Window” is probably the most blatant song about windows here (a nod to Hitchcock’s film as well) and “Seasoned Veteran” was originally seen on Dylan’s 2017 solo release and its transition from acoustic simplicity to heavy bass-driven indie rock still makes an impression years later. Closer “Visitation” is moody and transcendental and at around 35 minutes, the album manages to make its mark without overstaying its welcome.
Although the band didn’t feel like their latest record was a foray into pop, they make no bones about their appreciation of said music. I feel like they have been arriving at new, more accessible places ever since I first reviewed a Dear Blanca album on this site back in 2013. The worst ‘pop’ music to me is the kind that has all the trappings of pop music, with none of the hooks. Perched is the opposite of that… not a lot of the pop “signifiers”, but the chops and hooks that get stuck in your head; the best part of pop music. The band still emulates their SST idols in spirit , but I could easily hear many of these songs on the radio and that’s not a bad thing to say. As I get older, I tend to gravitate towards the major label sounds of SST expatriates like Husker Du over their classic early days. More honed, focused and wiser, Dear Blanca strikes me the same way; the band has graduated to the upper tier of South Carolina rock without losing any cred in the process and that’s a narrow, hard path to tread.
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.