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Published: 2011/10/04
by Sam Robertson

Blue Light City

Mason Jar Records

Turbine is a New York City jamband that has been gathering steam in the northeast and become a regular on the festival circuit due to their energetic live shows. With their latest album, Blue Light City, Turbine attempts to capture that live energy in the recording studio. But while Turbine bring the same experimental spirit to the studio that they bring to live performances, the band also embraces the studio as a tool for creating psychedelic soundscapes that can’t be easily replicated live. Like their live performances, Turbine’s newest studio album is full of improvisatory jams and a healthy dose of experimentation, but with Blue Light City, they’ve taken a slightly different approach to their music in the studio.

Turbine began as an acoustic duo featuring Jeremy Hilliard on lead guitar and vocals and Ryan Rightmire on rhythm guitar and harmonica. But listening to Blue Light City, it’s hard to imagine that Turbine started as a rootsy duo, as they have evolved into a full-fledged psychedelic rock band. The album’s first track, “War of 9161,” lives up to its bizarre title with sound effects that make it feel like the soundtrack to a science fiction movie. With an energetically funky rhythm, airy vocals full of apocalyptic imagery and psychedelic noise that surprisingly comes from a harmonica, the song certainly has a futuristic vibe. Harmonica player Ryan Rightmire immediately grabs the listener’s attention with a trippy, melodic riff on “War of 9161.” With Turbine, Rightmire has managed to make a simple instrument sound like no one has before, experimenting with amplifiers and effects to draw sounds out of his harmonica that mimic a keyboard or synthesizer.

On some of the album’s weaker moments, such as “Eddy The Sea” which sounds just a bit too Phish-influenced, Turbine threatens to fall into the trap of being just another jamband. But Rightmire’s harmonica stops them from ever falling into that territory as his clever use of effects keeps the music unique and interesting. “Members Only” may be lyrically lacking, but Rightmire’s funky Talking Heads-esque riff played through his harmonica saves the song from mediocrity.

Some songs such as the catchy Americana of “Just Like These Wheels” are not so sonically adventurous, and display Turbine’s acoustic roots. But on the whole this album owes much more to the progressive rock of Yes and King Crimson. Just the album’s name Blue Light City and it’s psychedelic cover art bring to mind 1970’s progressive rock, and Turbine is not afraid to wear that influence on its sleeve. The seven plus minute title song full of wah wah guitar and pulsing rhythms is pure heavy progressive rock, while the even longer “Special of the Day” is dominated by a blistering harmonica riff from Rightmire.

Make no mistake about it, Turbine is a jamband, and as such, this album has the same peaks and valleys as studio albums by most jambands. Blue Light City is full of ripping guitar and harmonica solos but also drags a little with three songs over seven minutes long. Blue Light City may not be a perfect album, but it is undoubtedly a giant step in the right direction for Turbine as it finds them attempting to become as comfortable in the recording studio as they are onstage and continuing to experiment with their evolving sound.

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