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Something Beautiful

Blueland just wants to have fun

By Nicky Baxter

San Francisco's always been a magnet for misfits, musical and otherwise. Blueland fits the description perfectly. The ever-present touch of blue mascara that shades the eyes of frontman James Spath is a not-so-subtle hint that this band possesses an alternative perspective on what makes pop sparkle and hum.

True, Blueland isn't the only Bay Area act caught up in the throes of U.K. mania. What separates Blueland from the pack is singer/songwriter Spath's wry, off-the-cuff lyrics and elastic, slightly hysterical vocal approach. Although Spath is Blueland's undisputed boss, his comrades (guitarists Bobby Nelson and Jim Lambert; bassist David Hartig; and drummer Skott Bennett) supply more than mere sonic backdrops. On virtually every cut on the band's self-titled CD, Blueland demonstrates exceptional versatility.

Part of what makes Blueland (PopMafia) such fun is the treasure-hunting for transatlantic influences. The intoxicating strum and jangle of "June" is enhanced by Spath's slyly placed quote from the Smith's "Sheila Take a Bow." The roaring tumult of "Lions and Lambs" is reminiscent of Radiohead on a psychedelic binge.

Not that Blueland is simply an exercise in homage. "Something Beautiful" is an infectious number flaunting buzz-saw guitar, whomping drums and pitch-perfect harmonies. Here Spath's vocals are somewhat more restrained.

"An Early December Hope" begins like a slightly off-kilter waltz, thanks to Bennett's subtly slashing drumming, while Nelson's shimmery guitar part sounds as if it had been recorded underwater. Spath's theatrical bawling is balanced by cloud-light backing vocals.

Blueland knows how to have a good time. Spath and company make no bones about the fact that they are entertainers intent on making yummy pop with no strings attached.

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Web exclusive to the Oct. 2-8, 1997 issue of Metro.

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