Blu Ruckus is the performing name of New York-based artist and songwriter Nolan Mendoza. Mendoza began creating music at a young age when a friend gave him an old MIDI controller, which ultimately led to his electronic music style. “By sampling and distorting sounds,” Mendoza writes, “Blu Ruckus creates a juxtaposition of acoustic and processed sounds that transports the listener into the glitchy world of magic and machine. These seven songs are influenced by Radiohead, Jack Antonoff, The 1975, David Bowie, M83, Grimes, The XX and more.” Regarding his band’s sound, he adds: “I always loved the DIY, imperfect tones of early independent productions, the way you used to be able to hear what was going on in the background of the studio if you listened really closely. I wanted to make it feel like you were tuning into some sort of Alien Radio.”
2019’s Poor Kid Orchid was an introduction to the world of Blu Ruckus, and was about “an extraterrestrial who is feeling for the first time he is not human.” In this 2020 release Kid Orchid, the kid learns that he, in fact, is not a human, and begins his next chapter. “I was feeling like giving up on humanity,” Mendoza admits. “I started dreaming, and thought we (humans) might be better off if we were actually in some E.T. simulation. This album was extremely healing and got me through some personally shitty and tough months.” These tracks were recorded in New Jersey, New York and Arizona, and mixed and mastered in NYC.
Right off the top, I have to say that Mendoza succeeds in his desire to create a malfunctioning computer simulation world, and his various glitches and distortions are tastefully placed and quite beautiful. Without a lyrics sheet I was unable to decipher more than a few phrases here and there, which is unfortunate because the ongoing saga of Kid Orchid is obviously quite important to Mendoza. Left to my imagination, the temptation is to see the Kid Orchid story as a rough parallel to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, or Radiohead’s Kid A. That said, the vocals are performed quite well and display a large variety of arrangements, from intimate solos to space age choirs and all points in-between.
“Arrival” is a short preview of what’s to come with a slow flowering of synths, keyboards and digital drums; the vocals indeed sound like they’re calling in from another dimension. This track is only one minute and 24 seconds, but is good enough to have continued for another two or three minutes. With a sudden stop, we move on to “Hell Of A Man” which features an easy rock beat and various cool vocal treatments. At this juncture Kid Orchid appears to have his feet both in our world and another universe far away. “We’re floating through the afternoon / You’re rolling me a joint or two / There’s so much I want to do / We’ll make a home up on the moon / For me and you / It seems so new.” Mendoza has a nice touch with his keyboards, mixing them close enough to make their statements, yet far enough away to maintain his open, spacey atmosphere.
“A Message” is another short bridging track with slow, swirling synths and a fractured voice trying to break through the distortion (but not quite succeeding). Another full stop and we’re into “Advice,” another uptempo rock tune with folky acoustic guitar and harmony vocals, accompanied by sweet melodies on the guitar and keys. “At sixteen my best friend was a witch,” Mendoza sings, “And she told she could fix it / But I said that I’m all right / Don’t take advice / they’ll kill your heroes twice / and I’m so paralyzed / Until you’re home.” This song shares many of the charms of “Hell Of A Man” without being too stylistically close.
“Virgo” initially reminded me of Prince both instrumentally and vocally (especially the chants of “I just want to love you”), and features electronic drums that recall the old Mattel Synsonics units that were ubiquitous in the ’80s. Very cool pulsing background melodies here. Halfway through, most of the instruments drop out and then slowly regather, along with occasional, distant seagull sound effects.
“Stains” is a song anchored both by acoustic and “lead” piano that is either electronic or pushed to the absolute maximum EQ. In other hands, such an effect might have you yanking off the headphones, but Mendoza has a knack for making noise and distortion listenable and beautiful. “I Think I Think Too Much” ends the album like a slow-paced electronic symphony, over which Mendoza sings with a voice worthy of Peter Gabriel’s weirdest tracks. All the strengths of the previous songs are present, including a seemingly endless variety of processed beats and effects.
Despite Mendoza’s fealty to his ongoing story, I enjoyed this collection more as a trance album where I didn’t have to think too hard. If I could make any suggestion (aside from printing the lyrics), I’d advise that the trance style might be better served with fades between songs instead of dead stops, but that’s Mendoza’s choice and it works either way. Worth checking out!
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