Hello, Blue Roses

The Portrait Is Finished And I Have Failed To Capture Your Beauty...

(Locust; 2008)

By David Greenwald | 6 February 2008

Of all the rock star fantasies, making music with your significant other might be the most indulgent. Drugs and alcohol can lead to Station to Station (1976) or Tonight’s the Night (1975), respectively; start writing songs with Linda McCartney and you get “Live and Let Die.” Some romantic musical partnerships have been more successful than others: old married couple Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have had a steady creative relationship in Sonic Youth, and the Rumours (1977 -- some decade, huh?) of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s fiery ups and downs are well-chronicled. Hello, Blue Roses -- a collaboration between Destroyer frontman and New Pornographers/Swan Lake contributor Dan Bejar and his girlfriend, visual artist Sydney Vermont -- falls somewhere in the middle, crafting a set of soft folk with occasional Bejar-sparked fireworks.

Perhaps Hello, Blue Roses’ closest parallel is Dean and Britta, Dean Wareham’s harmless post-Luna duo. No one embarrasses themselves here, but with a few exceptions, it’s hard to find much to fall in love with. The title track (likely a reference to a line from Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie) opens the album and sets the course for most of the 40 minutes of folk balladry to come. Strumming her acoustic guitar with a tentativeness that recalls the Softies, it’s Vermont’s tender soprano which carries the album. These are her songs, for better or worse, and Bejar’s influence is unfortunately limited.

He’s felt early in the title track with a sludgy electric guitar, and his vocal presence on “Shadow Falls,” a Kate Bush-y exception to the acoustic rule, is a necessary sandpaper to Vermont’s smooth harmonies. Their finest duet is “Hymn,” which finds the pair tackling a syllable that stretches through some 20 notes -- Bejar, always more of a barker than a singer, has some trouble keeping up with his sweet-voiced lovebird. But endearing moments like these are too few. Dividing the album neatly in half is “St. Angela,” a slice of Belle & Sebastian twee that provides some much-needed energy (read: drumming). Things go downhill after that: six of the next seven songs open with a guitar chord and Vermont’s voice diving straight into the verse. There’s something to be said for brevity, of course, but piling two-minute song after two-minute song on top of each other is going to leave some squashed and unmemorable. “Coming Through Imposture,” which spends most of its 2:31 runtime repeating its title, could do with a little more development, and the best part of “Come Darkness” -- a flute-filled baroque exercise -- is imagining Bejar writing the flute arrangements. The piano-driven “Sunny Skies” offers a refreshing break from guitar, especially when Bejar’s voice and Your Blues-era MIDI strings enter for the bridge.

One could dwell on the poetics of Vermont’s lyrics if they were more understandable; despite a high-flying voice, she enunciates with a marble-mouth worthy of Michael Stipe. Even Bejar isn’t invulnerable here, tacking on guitar solos to cover holes in the songwriting walls. It’s all charming enough, but as star-crossed lovers go, perhaps the pair should stick to their individual strengths. Hello, Blue Roses may offer enough sweet kisses to steal your attention for now, but it’s hard to offer a commitment when there’s a new Destroyer album to fall in love with in just a few months.