Intelligent and irrepressibly creative. These are good ways to describe the quartet The Blackmail Seduction, originally out of the Minneapolis area, and now flogging their wares with success in the balmy climes of Southern California. Their latest studio release The Blackmail Seduction II bases its musical backbone around a traditional rock configuration of two guitars, bass, and drums, but this isn’t some cookie cutter riff outfit playing to the lowest common denominator. Primary songwriter, guitarist, and lead singer Jess McClellan is joined by lead axe man, backing singer and keyboardist Troy Hardy while the rhythm section of bassist Mike Mennell and drummer Blair Sinta hold down the bottom end with impressive flexibility. Troy Hardy’s production captures the band’s sound in such a way it sounds like the collection was cut live in the studio with minimal, if any, overdubs.
“Dead Girl” brings listeners up close to two important parts of the band’s musical identity. The crackling distorted guitars weaving patterns throughout the arrangement never travel the typical rock route and, instead, unlock compositional depths in the song that a simpler approach would have closed off. Much of the song’s success is attributable to the weight Sinta and Mennell’s playing brings to the song. “Tell the World” is a full throttle rocker with a surprisingly bluesy edge, largely thanks to the song’s key guitar riff, but McClellan seems to enjoy flexing his hard rock singer muscles with a performance that couples power with attentive, varied phrasing. “High” moves the needle back in a poppier direction than before for some of the track, but there’s snappy six string interplay between Hardy and McClellan’s guitars during the song’s second half and the presence of other instrumental colors in the song syncs up well with the band’s guitar heroics.
“Visiting Hours” hums along at a steady pace and carefully modulates its changes to achieve a thoughtful, considered effect for this song. It sounds like emotion restrained – there are moments when McClellan’s voice threatens to crack or break key and the obvious artfulness behind these points in the track are among its crowning achievements. The guitar work shows the same level of consideration and reminds me of the opener in the way it looks to color the song in rather than lead the way. “Some Things Are Forever” is one of the more commercial efforts on The Blackmail Seduction II, but that isn’t any slight against the material or the band’s intentions. Their penchant for backing vocals finds ideal expression during this song and Blair Sinta’s assortment of drum fills gives the song a bouncy, positive energy that many listeners will find contagious.
There’s rock, pop, a dollop of experimentation, and meaningful lyrical content fueling this release. That’s the tip of the iceberg. We can’t forget the vocal contributions from Jess McClellan either and the band deserves praise for the obvious focus they place on a strong vocal presentation with The Blackmail Seduction II’s songs. It’s attention that’s paid off with a release worth anyone’s time, casual or devoted music fan alike.