Canadian art-rock band Blessed – comprised of Drew Riekman, Reuben Houweling, Jake Holmes, and Mitchell Trainor – have announced their forthcoming EP iii, set for release on February 19th, 2021 via Flemish Eye Records. Blessed have previously self-released just one full-length record—their taut, spring-loaded 2019 debut Salt—and yet they’ve arranged themselves around a sound and aesthetic that is fully formed and potent, couched in a quiet reverence for their community in Abbotsford, a small, rural city in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. In line with the themes of collaboration and community that define the band, they also recruited different mixers for each song of the EP – Corin Roddick (Purity Ring), John McEntire (Tortoise), Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck), and the band’s own Drew Riekman.
Along with the EP announcement and signing to Flemish Eye Records, the band has shared the first single “Structure,” which was mixed by John McEntire (Tortoise) and comes with a video directed by Kaayla Whachell.
Blessed says of the track, “Structure’ deals with complacency and failing to explore the depths of your actions compared to the words you espouse and values you proclaim to have. If you can’t acknowledge your imperfection and flaws, you don’t leave room to listen and grow. If you’re always trying to teach, you can’t be taught.”
The cover art for iii depicts a wall of wooden blocks, all different shapes, jumbled messily and precariously high against a softly-coloured background. It’s an image that captures Blessed at their most essential: experimental, asymmetrical, and interdependent, all the more remarkable for their marriage of those three qualities. The EP’s four tracks expand on Blessed’s already-idiosyncratic vision: cavernous post-punk electronics and measured drum work pave under guitarwork that trips and sways from chiming and sunny, to serrated and snarling, to frigid and stiff. Vocalist Drew Riekman’s lithe tenor flickers in and out across tracks, an extra texture rather than a spotlit focus.
Riekman says that like the EP’s compositions, the artwork for iii (created by longtime friend and digital artist Nathan Levasseur) reflects his own experience of anxiety, which at its worst has confined him to his home for months at a time. “I really struggled with agoraphobia when I was younger, and still do to this day,” he says. Often, a salve for these experiences is community and collaboration. Riekman says these give a “feeling of the world getting smaller.”
Blessed created the new EP in step with this logic. The band self-produced the record at Vancouver’s Rain City Recorders, with vocals tracked at friends’ houses across Abbotsford. Riekman credits the previous generation of DIY artists in the Fraser Valley with fostering a sense of local responsibility and solidarity that Blessed aims to perpetuate. That’s part of what keeps him in the city; he and Blessed attend city council meetings, book all-ages shows in a garage downtown, and share resources with younger artists learning the ropes of recording, touring, and grant application processes.
“If we leave now, are we abandoning the future us?” Riekman reasons.
For mixing services, the band strayed from conventional rock record ideology. Rather than aim for one uniform mix, they pursued four separate ones: Corin Roddick (Purity Ring) on opener “Sign”; John McEntire (Tortoise) on “Structure”; Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) on “Centre”; and Riekman on closer “Movement.” The result is four tracks with distinctly different palettes and trajectories.
“We looked at a lot of hip-hop records and were like, ‘Why are rock bands always trying to have consistency?’” asks Riekman. “Why do we care so much about consistency? If it’s art made by us, the consistency is us. For us, working with a community is probably the best aspect of creating art outside of making the art itself.”