What grabs you so quickly about blink.’s sophomore release The Architects is how this rarely resembles a jazz record at all. The looped electronic ping of “Protect From Light (I)” is guided by a synthesizer for nearly two minutes before light cymbals, guitars and alto saxophone are brought into the mix. They never turn into the guiding forces; that’s accomplished by the electronics. In the best traditions of Chicago’s post-rock scene, The Architects plays with the idea of full-fledged lounge electronica or squalling instrumental rock or improvised jazz, but never settles on one. And we’re still just talking about one song here.
The quartet changed its approach for The Architects. Its first, 2008’s The Epidemic of Ideas, was less polished, more straightforward, more readily identifiable as a jazz record taking strong cues from the improvisational world that surrounds them in the Windy City. It had its groovy, approachable moments (“Displacement,” was an especially schmaltzy head-bobber), but was more the sound of a band working to identify its strengths, taking some show-tested material, and playing with it in the studio.
In contrast, The Architects sounds supremely focused even when it’s going off the rails. Bassist Jeff Greene created intentional arcs with recurring melodic themes and you can hear them sprouting up through the pavement of a much more refined, relaxed environment. Even when you’re hearing a melody repeat, you’re hearing it in an unexpected place. The group makes the intentional seem accidental. It happens on the scribbled mess of notes that suddenly halts itself mid-jumble on “I Will Save the Day (I),” on the extended skronk (made all the wilder by alto saxophonist Greg Ward) that makes up the core of “Align Your Planets,” on the immediate come-down of “How to Rest in Peace,” on the cooing choir on “The Secret Life of Quiz Shows.”
The production work of Manny Sanchez and Chris Harden at I.V. Lab Studios should be noted for its deft touch: While The Architects sounds richer than The Epidemic of Ideas, it never sounds overly polished. It’s worth noting that this is easier to hear digitally than it is on cassette, the only two formats in which this has been released (via Whistler, a small bar-based label with a keen eye on Chicago’s local scene). No matter the format, these nine songs are blink. at its recorded best. For such a chameleonic collective, it’s hard to ask for more.