The Portland quartet Blanket Music have perhaps come into into their own with their third studio album. Recorded with Adam Selzer (The Decemberists, M. Ward, Norfolk and Western) at Portland's Type Foundry Studio, Cultural Norms is an organic, eclectic mix of Motown pop, Memphis blues, northern soul/funk, and chamber pop. The obvious modern day touchstone would be Belle and Sebastian, but as with Move and Nice, Blanket Music distinguish themselves with a penchant for reinventing themselves with each album and infusing their songs with genre-bending verve. Cultural Norms is as much a departure musically as it is lyrically. Here Chad Crouch confronts contemporary hot topics and with an eye for detail, charming wit, and multidimensional character-driven narratives. Topically alighting on reality television, obesity, gay marriage, Picasso's Guernica, the Iraq war, the digital music revolution, video games, dollar stores, and one particularly tongue-in-cheek censure of bitter taste makers, Cultural Norms serves up a toe tapping, unvarnished portrait of contemporary American values. It's no Born in The USA. Nor is it a protest album. Instead Cultural Norms is a wide angle view of America through unlikely different points of view: the soldier, the cat, the dollar store manager, the teenager... In essence, a cast of nobodies making ordinary observations with extraordinary overtones.
If the concept sounds highbrow, the listener will instantly recognize the songs--crafted with buoyant pop melodies and good ol' fashioned hooks--sugar coat bitter pills and eclipse literary pretensions. Each song contributes to a refreshingly modern mix thanks to the tight, dynamic rhythm section of Dave Depper on Bass and Greg Lind on drums. Michael Johnson (Reclinerland) contributes clean, melodic Rhodes piano lines and joins with Depper for vocal harmonies. Bolstered with a four piece horn section, flute, tasteful string and woodwind arrangements, and guest appearances from The Decemberists' Chris Funk on square neck guitar and Jenny Conlee on accordion, Cultural Norms is the rare album you can dance or think to.