Mark Deutrom spent much of 2018 revisiting his past output via a series of reissues, all the way eyeing a full-blown new LP. That effort, titled The Blue Bird, has arrived and stands as proof positive that the former Melvins member’s prowess remains firmly intact. A formidable presence on the bass, Deutrom’s strong sensibilities as a producer and composer come to the fore here.

He enters with musical guns blazing via the haunting spaghetti Western-esque “No Space Holds the Weight,” combining those familiar sounds with something grittier, akin to the doom-laden Americana that Earth has visited in its storied career. From there, he takes us into the unapologetically aggressive “Futurist Manifesto,” two minutes and five seconds of blazing rhythms that would sound perfect in the center of a cavernous arena, but which also sounds damn fine coming from one’s stereo speakers. “Radiant Gravity,” meanwhile, is an exploratory, post-rock-meets-doom jazz workout. Each of these pieces on their own form mental movies that suggest Deutrom has a fine future in film scoring.

These arrive before he’s uttered a word on the recording. It’s only when we get to the sludge workhorse “O Ye of Little Faith” that he graces us with his particular vocal talents, his cadences perfectly fitting the piece’s lumbering groove and steady, patient pace. Here, too, he proves himself an unstoppable riff lord, creating growling, buzzing low-end maneuvers that rattle the speakers that do not rattle. Lest we think he’s fallen into a sonic slumber and is fixated on a plodding future for the rest of the record, he whips out the fuzzy guitar number, “Our Revels Now Are Ended,” a vignette that gives way to the haunting noir-ish “Hell Is a City.”

On the latter, he mines textures culled from the Great American Songbook. The piece feels like Sam Cooke’s rendition of “Summertime” while Deutrom makes utterances that summon memories of Morphine’s Mark Sandman and his narcotic poetry while, similarly, evoking post-Syd/pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. The distances between those places are not, if we think about it, all that far and yet the feat of pulling the spaces together seems an almost Herculean feat that proves seamless here.

Similarly, “Somnambulist” walks a similar path, its eerie lyrical and melodic turns raising the fur on our collective necks. One wants to revel in each of the cymbal crashes, each tasteful guitar line, each sparse vocal line adding up to one meditative journey to the center of the mind. Lest we think that Deutrom’s gone sensitive and navel-gazer on us, he chops into the “Through the Ringing Cedars,” which begs to be stretched into an hour-long meditation on feedback but, thanks to the man’s good taste, stops well short of that. As upending as that sliver is, the record’s most gorgeous moment, “On Father’s Day,” becomes a salve for the listener, glistening with beauty and resolve, the artist achieving the most perfect guitar tone there as well.

As for a full-on rocker with commercial potential? Fear not. There’s the eighth-inning “The Happiness Machine,” which begs us to shout along with the grunge-cum-metal cadences in our fullest voices, feeling bits of nostalgia and righteous indignation floating in the air above us, then swooping down to bathe us in a blanket of confirmation.

The album closes with “Nothing Out There,” a piece cinematic in scope and unwavering in its naked emotionalism. It becomes the perfect cap on a journey that has carried the listener through a variety of musical settings under a singular umbrella. It is, like so much of this record, its own entity and part of a larger thread.

Those late to the Deutrom party need not worry about where this fits in with his larger oeuvre while those firmly acquainted with his past output will most likely comment that he’s outdone himself this time. He remains a vital musical force and one that, by all indications, is only beginning a mid-career ascent to some remarkable new heights. Leave your expectations at the edge of the album cover and embrace The Blue Bird for what it is: an imposing statement from a bold artist who demands that we pay close attention to his musical musings.

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