Saturday, August 01, 2009

Wind of Change

Johnny Indovina, the lead singer and songwriter of Human Drama, formed Sound of the Blue Heart in 2006. The band's second album, Wind of Change, was released mid July 2009. One can hear in this new album that Johnny Indovina was the stylistic driving force behind Human Drama, but also how Indovina and Sound of the Blue Heart are forging a new sound. The album simultaneously dips back into the Human Drama era and is a mark of departure from Indovina's previous work, including Sound of the Blue Heart's first album Beauty?.

When I was hanging out in the Goth scene in Los Angeles in the 1990s I was only vaguely familiar with Human Drama, even though they had been around L.A. since 1985. My friend who introduced me to the L.A. Goth scene, Alex Makarczyk (also lead singer of the now defunct L.A. band Delirium Blue), had met Johnny and the band as they were transitioning from being The Models, based in New Orleans, to Human Drama, based in L.A. At that time Human Drama was becoming a part of the Scream scene. Alex wasn't much impressed by their music or style but says they persisted and became part of the L.A. Goth scene, and improved as a band - though their "Romantic Operatic style" (as he recently put it) never appealed to him. Much of Human Drama's sound had a dramatic romantic element that, while often well done, just as often seemed unnecessary and overwrought - at times narrowly missing some of the bad Goth stereotypes. Indovina's lyrics, touted as meaningful, often seem to try too hard to be full of meaning. I find much of Human Drama's music corpus hit-and-miss, excelling in their covers, especially their cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," and Neil Young's "Old Man," both named as influences of the band. (Ironically, Alex was at Human Drama's last concert in 2004 where they played with Faith and the Muse.) Human Drama's last album is sort of the epitome of the large romantic operatic style of their previous albums, with the lyrics dripping with meaning, but by the time of this album it feels like the band had exhausted this style. They had come to the limits of their sound. Interestingly, Johnny Indovina has indicated that this may have been part of the reason for the end of the band when explaining why the band had as their last recording a single cover of "Let it Be." He said that he wanted to write a song as good as this song which he sees as the best song ever written, but couldn't. The single of the cover was distributed to fans at that last concert with Faith and the Muse.

Indovina formed Sound of the Blue Heart in 2006 with the release of the album Beauty?. The two tracks I have heard off this album feel a bit aimless, clearly trying to break from Human Drama but not completely succeeding either as a break from Human Drama nor as its own thing. I was interested in what this second album would bring, and it offers hope in its title, Wind of Change. This second album has broken from the Human Drama age but keeps some of what I suppose I find compelling in Indovina's lyrics and songwriting from the Human Drama days. In Wind of Change Indovina has transformed the operatic and romantic into a certain meditative and ethereal sacred quality one finds in Dead Can Dance, and some of Faith and the Muse, but without reference to or use of chant or other medieval and Arabic-influenced sound. When Wind of Change fully achieves this quality, the music is hauntingly and subtly beautiful. Unfortunately Indovina continues to be an inconsistent writer of lyrics, and the temptation to the overly dramatic and romantic remains. This continued tendency overshadows what seems to be a meditative ethereal album. But then I am not a Romanti-Goth and that which sweats out meaning from every syllable feels overdone. Indovina has a penchant for the Baroque that unfortunately tends towards kitsch, but he is not alone among Goth acts that also fall into this from time to time: older releases from Black Tape for a Blue Girl come to mind. However, this tendency mainly shows up in the ballads on the album and does not color the whole album.

I do not know how fans of Human Drama and Indovina will receive this new Sound of the Blue Heart but I think they may find much that will feel familiar while being drawn into a new direction with Indovina: less drama and more searching that gives us a glimpse of something sacred- a beauty directed towards otherness. This is fitting for an album with such a spiritual title as Wind of Change. If Indovina and Sound of the Blue Heart continue in this direction I will certainly continue to listen. I am curious what it would be like to see them in concert, and hope to do so soon.