Blunda is one of those artists for whom the “New Artist Spotlight” tag is a misnomer, as he’s been making music longer than most of YEDM’s punters have been alive. Starting young as a classical pianist, Andy Blunda played guitar and keyboard in the high profile indie bands Fastball and Paloalto in the 90s and early 00s. After that, Blunda stayed active in Hollywood, composing soundscapes for movies and television until he got the inspiration to go solo in 2014. With a distinctive style both in his guitar work and terms of production, many listeners may feel like they’ve heard him before his most recent album Brighter Days, even if they know nothing of his solo work; with his extensive rap sheet, they likely have.
Messages was Blunda’s first solo EP and it announced this distinctive sound with vintage synths inspired by late 80s new wave and compositions which hearken indie vibes from the same era. The guitar work is all Blunda, however, and in tracks like the title track and “If You Want Me,” that extraordinary guitar work elevates the sound from sort of throwback indie to really his own ultra-cool ambient indie rock.
On the shoegazey borders of dream pop, both this unique guitar sound and ambient sound design continued to develop for Blunda in his next EP, 2020’s Pulling For You, which had a lot more synth and piano work up front. Blunda also experimented more with vox manipulation here in tracks like “Low.” There’s a strong jazzy component on this EP as well, and Blunda often skirts the edge of adult contempo but lands firmly in the Tom Waits end of post punk due to his tonal structures and compositions being so effortlessly cool.
Brighter Days, which released in late June, seems to be where Blunda has found a balance for all the different elements in his previous releases. Blunda says he went into this project with the intention of capturing the energy of lockdown, both the intensity and the malaise; the sort of muted vibes as well as the hope for, well, “brighter days.”
This album came out of wanting to creating a space and feeling that would transport the listener. I found myself going on tons of hikes this past year with my son and exploring all these amazing places just outside of the city. I really wanted to create something that gave the feeling of being in all these wide open spaces. Especially after all the lockdowns of the last couple of years.
The importance outdoor space plays in healing is also very much reflected in the way each individual track moves in Brighter Days, as well as how the whole album flows. In the opening tracks “Beginning” and “Lost Without You,” that sort of muted, golden hour sense of peace in nature comes through via the sound design, composition and vocals. These two are done so well in terms of vibe that they could be put together and simply called “Elysium” (not the film) as they match the tones and feeling of the album cover: peaceful, a bit fuzzy and at the same time healing and heart-rending.
From those first two more shoegazey tracks, Brighter Days moves into the more dream pop side of things via with “Belong to Me,” which is a transition track or sorts, “Tape Pad,” “Ever Since” and “Open,” which are a bit more peak dream pop mixed with post punk, a’la Washed Out. The all-instrumental penultimate song “Bm” is a nod to Blunder’s clear-by-now love of post punk while “Light On” closes the album as it began: peak shoegaze.
The reason all these styles are important is the afore-mentioned journey the album intends to take. It’s also incredibly technically difficult to take said journey with so many styles. Blunda accomplishes this with sound design, soft, grunge-and-shoegaze-tinted vocals and similar, Moogy synths throughout, though the vapor wave at the end in “Light On” is a fun surprise. His technical mastery is on full display with Brighter Days as is his musical EQ, creating strong emotional reactions with each track, whether it has vocals or not. It might be strange to say, after nearly 30 years in the business, that Brighter Days is Blunda’s seminal work, but given how strong a work it is, that might actually be true. Here’s hoping he keeps building even more vivid soundscapes from here.