by Seth Trevor, freelance music critic, July 2008
"Three-minute, hook-driven British guitar pop tinted by hues of American indie rock: Handcrafted. Angular. Cinematic."
Much can be revealed by the name of a band. Often, it conjures ideas about the band's inspirations and influences. "The Dirty Blue." A comment on our smog filled skies? The name of some seedy downtown strip joint? A nod to Lake Michigan? After all, these guys do hail from the windy city.
The band's very name suggests the tarnished nature of things that on the surface seem so beautiful. Not to say these are a bunch of self-indulgent teenage angst-junkies, they just carry the slightly bitter taste of reality's imperfections in their mouths. Rather than bearing it like a ball and chain, they cleverly comment through the use of ironic humor as well as honest meaning. While The Dirty Blue's songs are well within the reach of their audience, this accessibility should not belie the weight of the music.
Built around the considerable talents of the instrumentally gifted Kuhl brothers (sounds like "cool") and Ukrainian maestro Dima, The Dirty Blue is a sprawling band in both production and concept. A storied musical past provides the foundation for a remarkably polished outcome. The Kuhls have been writing and performing music since their early teens, even appearing many times on local TV and radio shows. Now, utilizing a rotating arsenal of instruments, the trio offers a sound that simultaneously references classic Pop/Rock simplicity and intricate Prog Rock complexity, creating a fascinating contemporary hybrid in process.
The results are captured on their latest self-titled, self-produced offering. The album is a collection of crowd favorites, showcasing The Dirty Blue's relentless dedication to the traditions and aesthetics of the golden age of rock and serving as a retrospective of the band's career highlights.
Recommended tracks: Idle Hands, So, So Sad, Sometimes.
Playing scores of concerts since 2003, from their native Chicago to the southern states, The Dirty Blue have never felt a part of any particular scene or movement. Instead they formed a tight bond as a band, favoring their mutual appreciation for the classic pop and rock of earlier generations over any flavor-of-the-month trend or fashion. Although The Dirty Blue is a Chicago-based band, it's been said that "they may as well not be from around here."
Formed: 2003 in Calumet City, IL
Styles: Indie Rock, Pop Underground, Britpop, Mod, Prog-Rock/Art Rock, Hard Rock, Album Rock
Influenced by: Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Electric Light Orchestra, Guns N'Roses, Suede
Sounds like: Jet, Kings of Leon, The Bluetones, The Raconteurs, The Kinks, Supergrass, The Move, Oasis, Stereophonics, The Decemberists
Related projects: Homeland Security Orchestra
Dima - lead vocals, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars, electric rhythm guitar, flute, triangle, bass guitar, mixing & sequencing supervision, orchestration, music direction
John Kuhl - lead & rhythm guitars, slide guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass guitar, cello arrangements, lead & backing vocals, concept development, post-production
Nathan Kuhl - drums, auxiliary percussion, bass guitar, grand piano, hammond b3, wurlitzer, rhodes, clavinet, melodica, harmonica, lead & backing vocals, photography, graphic design, art direction
Souls For Sale EP, 2003 (out of print)
Stray Dog Sampler EP, 2003 (out of print)
Out Of The Blue Sessions EP, 2004 (out of print)
Idle Hands Digital EP, 2008 available on iTunes!
So, So Sad Digital EP, 2008 available on iTunes!
The Dirty Blue (in post-production), mid 2009
Dig it: British Mod Pop tinted with Prog Rock hues, like Marillion at a Kinks tribute.
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Built around the considerable talents of the multi-instrumentally gifted Kuhl brothers, The Dirty Bl...Built around the considerable talents of the multi-instrumentally gifted Kuhl brothers, The Dirty Blue is a sprawling band in both size and concept. Utilizing a rotating cast of six or seven additional musicians, the Kuhls offer a sound that simultaneously references classic Pop/Rock simplicity and intricate Prog Rock complexity, creating a fascinating contemporary hybrid in the process.
Probably for the first time in your lives, you will very much look forward to being much more dirty and much more blue for reasons very different than these words' definitions imply.
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A lot can be discovered through the name of a band. Often, it can conjure all sorts of ideas about t...A lot can be discovered through the name of a band. Often, it can conjure all sorts of ideas about the bands inspirations and influences.
"The Dirty Blue"…perhaps a comment on our smog filled skies…perhaps the name of some seedy downtown strip joint...or perhaps a reference to Lake Michigan. These guys do hail from the windy city after all.
Whatever the true meaning, the bands' very name suggests the tarnished nature of things that on the surface seem so beautiful. Don't get it wrong - these are not a bunch of self indulgent, teenage angst-junkies, they just carry the slightly bitter tastes in their mouths of the imperfections of reality. They don't bear it like a ball and chain however, just cleverly comment on it through some use of ironic humour as well as honest meaning. In fact the great accessibility of the songs should not belie the weight of the music.
The title of the EP/album (Out of the Blue Sessions) even suggests a sudden realisation of their innate skill as if it all happened by accident-but we're not fooled. The band works as if they have breathed in harmony for much longer than their 1-year-together tag suggests. And in fact, brothers John (lead guitar, vocals) and Nathan (drums, piano, vocals) Kuhl have been writing and performing music together for years with some recognition, so their obvious comfort in creating together shines through. This only emphasizes their overall integrity as a musical force and it apparently has rubbed off on Ukrainian maestro Dima and capable bassist Melissa Kempfer, who complete this multi-talented quartet.
The songs generally have the complete sounds of self-assured potential hit singles-not making them at all contrived, but simply demonstrating their successful balance of the right ingredients; a catchy tune, simple lyrics with strength behind the words and enough innovation in the music to keep us interested. Because, despite the somewhat pessimistic themes such as, tired confusion and lost relationships, the very flavour of the tunes betray a reluctant optimism and deep down resolve.
When you for example, take in the galloping tempo/ride of "Everything to Lose" the lyrics are sheer philosophical cynicism and aren't sorry for it. The music makes you want to learn the piano so you can play along. In this day of pop synth and miming, they happily refresh the memory of the simple beauty and effectiveness of a marriage of a guitar and a piano, recalling memories of bands such as Squeeze. Although not exactly retro, The Dirty Blue positively pays homage to such bands. In other instances, you are reminded of very early Nirvana such as on the riff- propelled "Opiumatic Nobodies". At other times of early 90's British Indie bands such as Sleeper.
Certainly there is an overall folky feel to the EP. Pace fuelled acoustic melodies often overlain with a twangy accompaniment, gives it a sometimes slightly 'country feel', though thankfully in this case, not a bad thing. There are beautifully somber moments as well-little breaks in the action, Mercury Rev style, such as the feedback driven opening wail of the "Prologue" which seems to link in with the first track proper; the fine, broody, "Wake Up Call". Or on the forlorn melancholy of "Black Cats and Broken Mirrors", where we have only a piano for our quiet consideration.
Probably for the first time in your lives, you will very much look forward to being much more dirty and much more blue for reasons very different than these words' definitions imply. And, on hearing this accomplished disk the only thing you will want…is more. Like the starter dish of a six course slap up meal in an up market restaurant, you are left momentarily satisfied and tantalized by the quality, but can't wait to sink your teeth into the mouthwatering main course.
Out of the Blue Sessions is the sound of guys making journeyman rock and pop with skill and dedication.
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The Dirty Blue’s Out of the Blue Sessions plays like cinematic pub rock from the western edge of the...The Dirty Blue’s Out of the Blue Sessions plays like cinematic pub rock from the western edge of the universe. The sound is a juxtaposition of frigid Eurotrash vocals and round, warm ‘70s rock sounds. The sound is listenable, but just a little bit foreboding -- from the opening spaceship sounds and clangy guitar chords of the “Prologue” and into the jaunty, almost spacey rock of “Wake Up Call.”
The spy-rock guitar intro of “Sometimes” draws you into the jangly Suede meets 1990s R.E.M. anthem only to drop you off in the cowboy la-la land of the “Out of the Blue Theme.”
“Opiumatic Nobodies” is gritty alt-rock w/ a little bit of wiggle in it’s back beat. It’s like angst you can dance to – but not in a Franz Ferdinand kinda way. It might be a bit camp, but it’s cool. Just listen to the squiggly guitars and get down.
Pretty piano stuff jolts you outta party mode for a bit when you get to the dreamy “Black Cats and Broken Mirrors.” “Everything to Lose” is power-poppy ditty with uplifting harmonized vocals and a swanky little guitar melody. It’s touching and not at all sappy.
The final track “So, So Sad” is a brit-pop stomp with some great guitar licks, a big driving sound, and one hell of a catchy chorus. Good stuff.
In short, the Dirty Blue provide some old fashioned with a future twist. It’s not quite retro, but it isn’t slick and modern either. Out of the Blue Sessions is the sound of guys making journeyman rock and pop with skill and dedication.
The Dirty Blue have captured their postmodern moment in time well, on an expressive palette that rocks, and at the end of the day, it’s the rock that counts.
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One of the most compelling aspects of Dirty Blue’s Out of the Blue Sessions is its contrasts. This C...One of the most compelling aspects of Dirty Blue’s Out of the Blue Sessions is its contrasts. This Chicago-based band of two brothers with international back-up (Ukrainian rhythm guitar player Dima and bassist Mahjula Bah-Kamara) offers up a post-modern rock commentary on the cosmic irony of human relations, and while the press kit promises “gray studies of hopeless misery,” the classic rock sound and tight harmonies lift your spirits well past the gray zone. Nathan Kuhl’s piano interludes sprinkled throughout are sparkling moments of optimism and, I’m sorry, beauty, there’s no getting around it, despite the deliberately dark titles (“Black Cats and Broken Mirrors”). Shades of Joni Mitchell surprise.
Lyrically, the brothers Kuhl do lean toward the dark side, painting introspective and provocative agonies of soul, but the contrast here is less positive because muddy mixing on a few songs limits our ability to hear these powerful and thought-provoking words. “Sometimes” forcefully portrays postmodern alienation, its lyrics perfectly suited for the crunchy hooks, but they are sadly prophetic: “garbage in my ears." It’s a shame to miss lyrics as forcefully descriptive as these:
Sometimes you feel nothing
like you’re nothing but empty spaces
all your friends are worried
that you don’t return their calls ...
“Wake Up Call” is easier to make out, which is fortunate as again, the outstanding lyrics under the layered guitars are too good to miss:
Mindless coffee and wet cigarettes
what you don’t remember
I’ll never forget ...
“Opiumatic Nobodies” rocks in with twangy guitars answering and echoing, ode to a buzz. Nice changes with a British element that charms. The juxtaposition of Kuhl’s piano pieces with the harder-edged material works perfectly, providing a sense of journey, and it’s a great trip. “Everything to Lose” is a standout cut, with its arrangement of jangly guitars and smooth harmonies, highlighting once again the Kuhl brothers’ skillful writing, “shallow graves in full bloom.”
Closing out the CD is the interesting “So, So Sad," a British mod rocker that explores reluctant love, its lyrics fearlessly facing the slavish tendencies of addictive love. The Dirty Blue has captured their postmodern moment in time well, on an expressive palette that rocks, and at the end of the day, it’s the rock that counts.
hill street blues theme
heaven on their minds
outside woman blues
the green manalishi
drunk on apathy
breathing dirty water
black cats and broken mirrors
everything to lose
battle of one
check your head
Note: typical set of all original material is 50-75 minutes long
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