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The Day Baroque Woke the Fck Back Up – Stephen Bluhm’s “Out of the Nowhere. Into the Here”

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Albums keep raining on to my desk, pouring in over the transom like a flood of desperate refugees released from the clutches of publicists and scrappy indie labels from every corner, the threat of neglect nipping at their heels. Overstatement? Of course it is (if only barely) but nonetheless the tide will not be stanched and the thing about it, a thing both great and sad, is that the talent and drive and inventiveness so often found within is nearly always unique and strong enough to merit not just coverage but a host of hosannas as well that as such leaves each of us here at SEM wishing we had ten brains and twenty hands to give every promo its just due. And, yes yes, alas alas, poor us but the point at hand here is that seldom has any album in recent memory made all the foregoing so rivetingly clear as this second disc (past 2017’s self-titled, self-released debut) from the not-so-long-ago up and coming to the rather suddenly arrived Stephen Bluhm that, while released April 19th via Vintage Annals Archive, no doubt came across that metaphorical transom some two or three weeks prior at least. Now, at last sat down and digging into the captivatingly titled Out of the Nowhere. Into the Here (that period. Perfect!), our only hope is that we can surmount the regret thus triggered by finally attending with some detail to this curiously subtle baroque pop masterpiece and, as has actually happened, find it so meritorious that we realize we really should have begun immediately shouting its many attributes from the rooftops the minute it slipped through the mailslot. But, as is said: Better late. Than Never. Let’s go.

Casting a wide and eclectic and highly playful net in terms of both content and, unsurprisingly, the range of instruments – and their players – to surface that content (see below for a full list of personnel and what they brought to this overspillingly precise banquet), the humbly ambitious range that both defines the aesthetic on display here while rather defying the odds of what’s pop possible is immediately evident as “Any Little Thing” opens proceedings with éclat and elan. Atop a single lowing bass note comes piano, piccolo, cello and a haunt of violins hanging from the rafters, the track, with its clarity of purpose and – especially – its clear-as-club-soda production (which isn’t to even mention Bluhm’s richly sardonic baritone), indeed comes seemingly out of the nowhere and into the gently bracing RIGHT NOW, in the process bringing up behind it the entirety of the album itself, the result being a 10-song affair that is ravishingly of a piece. Oh, and have we mentioned the lyrics? Let’s.

Popping out everywhere here like the sparkles off a sparkler, the lines Bluhm annunciates with such wry clarity strike the ears as both imperishable and ephemeral (somehow; we haven’t figured that out yet just as we haven’t sussed how the narratives within those lines oftentimes have this sly-yet-direct, tender and assured tendency to inhabit multiple social dimensions all at once), we offer up the following Whitman’s Sampler of delectable one- (and/or two-) liners:

  • ‘the dandelion daylight dies/you capture a dozen fireflies’ from the sweet, banjo-bedded “Wissahickon” (a neighborhood in Lower Northeast Philly, don’tcha know)
  • “The Moon & the Twelve Tones”‘s ‘Dawn without morning. Wound without mend. Love without warning. World without end.’ in which Bluhm’s own solo piano plus some yearning string action and that penchant for periods helps sustain our mortal being.
  • from the aggressively self-effacing “Existential Crisis”‘s first stanza: ‘When you’re angry, though you’re special/your words are inconsequential/because we both butterfly each passerby’
  • ‘I get sad when I think of the arrogant things I said/I get scared that I was awakened in my ward bed’ that anchors the wistfully brutal honesty that is “There Was A Light” that closes this gem of gems…

…and, yes, we could add more but from our perspective lily-gilding has seldom been less necessary as we’re quite certain you’ve gotten the ‘get’ that we’re getting at here.

Like outsider art brought strikingly into the heart of your heart, listening to – nay, absorbing – the spirit and gist of Out of Nowhere. Into the Here. is no less than an experience akin to what it may well have been like had Noel Coward been a 21st C. troubadour, the tone of inevitable modern irony ever raffish but never insincere, its cleverness serving the intent and its emotional context, not the (usually cynical if not cloying) other way around as is far more often the case. Due the rather messy abundance that clutters our calendars here in the virtual SEM ionoshphere, that date, when this record officially released, passed by more or less unnoted, just another Friday falling into the morass of passed time. This, we now understand, was a grave oversight which, with both solemnity and joy, we’ve duly corrected. April 19th, 2024: the day the baroque woke the fuck back up. Cheers to that. [get Out of the Nowhere. Into the Here, umm, here in your preferred format be it LP, CD, or digital]

the players:

Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax, Flute: Stephen Sanborn
Cello: Jordan Gunn
Clarinet: Maya Yokanovich
Double Bass: Daniel Hoke
Flute, Piccolo: Francesca Hoffman
French Horn: Ser Konvalin
Oboe, English Horn: JJ Silvey
Viola: Alex McLaughlin
Violin: Tin Yan Lee, Jonathan Talbott, David Woodin