BHD is not a normal band.
Back where I come from, in the American Midwest, things that aren’t normal are described as “different” or “interesting”, but those terms carry a negative connotation on the part of the speaker. It tends to mean, “I don’t understand and I’m scared to commit to an opinion because I was raised to be polite. Oh, and I really don’t like it.”
But I would definitely describe BHD as different and interesting, and I mean that literally. As in, a unique, curious band that fascinates me. I’m happy to commit to this opinion. Oh, and I really like ‘em.
They’ve won my attention and affection by way of dynamic compositions, with movements, segues, sudden departures, and explosive streams of consciousness, ably captured on their album When Narcissus Looks Away.
While they’re often described around town as post-rock (and self-described as instrumental rock), they rarely dwell on the shoe-gazey drones that tend to represent the style. They do, however, get epic and loud, more often relying on grooves and riffs than delay pedals. Often this island feels like a refuge for post-rock, a safe house for introspective opuses that alternate between tender & soaring. BHD goes beyond the bipolar impulses that stereotype the genre.
Those moments are both there, yes, but the songs are all-inclusive of whatever flights of fancy may come, assembled without restrictions. Check out the shifts and turns on Memoirs of a Geisha, where jazzy asides evolve into heavy riffing, which in turn settle into a reflective pool - for a few moments - before weirding out in 5 different directions by its conclusion.
In the absence of the conventions of logic, we are treated to the majesty of intuition. It’s like listening in on another person’s dream.
The familiarity and comfort of one’s own bed allows one to relax best, to dream fuller and more vividly. And so it was that BHD lugged all of the gear from Rebel Sound Studios back to their own home base, seeking the warmth and energy of their womb for inspiration.
Recorded live as a complete ensemble, the band performs here with confidence. Live, I often suspect BHD is deftly improvising and they’ve maintained that same fluidity and drama on this album. Let’s recognize engineer Slater Chiang’s efforts here - he successfully adapted to a new environment on the fly, capturing a band on top of their game.
Opening track Dream Eater begins in medias res, with a hard vamp that abruptly changes course, leaping in slow-motion over a deathly chasm to a soft jungle terrain replete with strange flowers and giant drunken spiders. At least, that’s how my imagination responds: with a sense of adventure.
Nine Suns simmers with intrigue, spy-like and tense. There is a cinematic feel to their compositions, one they actively play with at live shows by projecting film clips and assorted footage on their custom triangle screen. At the 4 minute mark I hear a chase scene, the action oscillating between surfy riffs and violent crashes and explosions. A battle royal ensues, fisticuffs and shrapnel, the city awash in blood.
Characters from ancient Chinese literature also pay a visit to the soundscape, appearing in various song titles: Chi You 蚩尤 , Nu Wa 女媧, Mung Mu 孟母, their personalities and histories on display, from fierce & powerful to delicate & sage.
An ominous introduction sets up The Escape, a track that itself escapes reality, layering riffs with space-y jams, almost like jazz fusion, but with greater listenability. For all the shape-shifting, the music remains remarkably cohesive. Assisted by recurring motifs and the samples that thread their way through a piece, I never feel the band becoming self-indulgent or pretentious. They’re just rocking out.
When Narcissus Looks Away is an evocative album title. And so I found myself wondering, yeah, what would happen? In departing from the original story, Narcissus would thus save himself from obsession and death. And what would he see instead at that pivotal moment? A world beyond himself, things new & unknown, alluring & enlightening. BHD’s exciting explorations aim high, and in doing so, they’ve looked beyond themselves. They have transcended conventions, offering glimpses of an otherness as potentially compelling as ourselves.