Before the release of Ophelia Slowly, it felt like it had been forever since we had last heard from Guy Blakeslee. With Ophelia being his first solo album release in 10 years, it begs the question, "Why so long, Guy?"
"You gain your freedom, but you lose control/ you gain the world, but you lose your soul," sings Blakeslee on "Smile On," behind a looped, minimal beat. He sounds wary and, no question, he's been in great pain, but behind the mercurial guise, his story offers hope amidst the destruction.
Rewind 10 years, Blakeslee wasn't the troubled troubadour we find on this record. After calling it quits with his first solo rendition, under the moniker Entrance, Blakeslee decided to expand his project into the psychedelic rock trio, the Entrance Band. Needing a change of pace from being in the band for over a decade and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, Blakeslee coalesced the two in Ophelia Slowly. Gaining many artists' stamp of approval, he toured alongside ubiquitous acts like Warpaint, Cat Power, Interpol and Father John Misty.
In Ophelia Slowly, Blakeslee no longer hides behind a curtain of shrouded symbolism and metaphor as he did in The Entrance Band's Face the Sun. He decides to pull the curtain back and opts for honest, straightforward storytelling. Psychedelic wah-wahs and meandering guitar excursions have taken a backseat for the LA songwriter. No longer the gifted retro bluesman, Blakeslee instead favors languid, looped synths and minimalistic rhythmic sections to serve as the backdrop to his anguished timbres and reflective stories, grappling with his own demons.
But that doesn't mean the album isn't reminiscent of the cathartic, repetitious and simplistic roundabout of the blues. Haunting and damned lyrics never fall short: "I called for an angel but the devil came," Blakeslee becomes the spiritual vagabond singing for redemption in "Kneel and Pray." While in "Told Myself," Blakeslee spirals downward, battling contradictions and whining, "You were true and a liar too," just to end in a foreboding memento, "You were clean and a junkie too." Recanting folklore lines like, "You gain your freedom, but you lose control/You gain the world, but you lose your soul," may seem like a condemnation from an old, wise sage, but are, rather, realizations from a guy growing up.
Perhaps what is so great about the record is that while he delves into his life of borderline hedonism, he never explores it with even a hint of crass indulgence.
Blakeslee's subtlety and genuine lyricism is welcomed because the album exudes this sort of sensuality that isn't overly sexual. It chooses to journey into the challenging and optimistic aspects of love and friendship; it's wholesome without being absolutely innocent.
And while the record can sometimes feel like a whirlpool, churning out sing-song narratives, the album boasts eclectic production that prevents it from falling into kitschy territory. Ophelia's raw intonations and clarity are not only thanks to Blakeslee's unbridled emotion, but producer Chris Coady, the producer of Beach House and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "Ophelia Brown" concocts an anecdote of love and pain while accentuating an anti-folk chord cluster. "Cloud" also boasts some of the most impressive guitar work on the record, hearkening to the progression found in the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."
Perhaps what's most interesting is also the most unassuming: the album's title, Ophelia Slowly. Inspired by the tragic story of Ophelia from Shakespeare's drama Hamlet, Blakeslee reinterprets the tragedy and seeks light at the end of the tunnel. He chronicles his own journey out of the darkness amidst the struggles and tumultuous pitfalls of addiction one phrase at a time.