Blue Bendy – So Medieval review: a labyrinthine debut which doesn’t forego the fun

Blue Bendy band by Trinity Ace



It’s not easy being an open book for the world to read, and it’s no wonder that many high-profile artists choose to deflect from their true personas with smokescreens and self-effacing insincerity.

Even for a band of a blossoming stature like Blue Bendy, the aim is not to give too much away, which has resulted in there being an air of mystique hanging above them since their beginnings.

When they arrived with debut EP Motorbike in 2022, there were a lot of questions as to how people could pin any label on or fathom what the deal was with Blue Bendy. While many came to their own conclusions over time and felt satisfied that they understood the band’s ‘mission’, debut album So Medieval makes it clear that no amount of scrutiny will shed light on their true nature.

Whether it’s in moments where frontman Arthur Nolan presents lyrics which scan like inside jokes but are delivered with an overwrought breathiness, or in the labyrinthine song structures that fuse together the band’s clearly disparate stylistic backgrounds, each new listen of So Medieval poses a new question.

Admittedly, it might not be wise for a writer to open a glowing review with a disclaimer that they’re still wrapping their head around the record in question, but the greatest appeal of what Blue Bendy have offered up is that the album creates a sense of wonder that doesn’t warrant ceaseless dissection and simply asks the listener to indulge in its genius.

There was a clear love on display for abstract and forward-thinking pop groups like Stereolab and Broadcast on Blue Bendy’s previous release, with perhaps some scarce remnants of the short lived post-punk phase that preceded it. So Medieval, however, is far bolder in its musical stylings and stays true to the group’s desire to push boundaries.

There are some short, snappy and – by some metrics – poppy songs still present on the album, but they’re so densely packed with ideas that it feels remarkable that any moments could stand out long enough to create a lasting impression as pop music conventionally does. Contrary to how things ought to work, the band have mastered the art of the complex earworm and allow the sprawl to consume their songs and weave its magic.

Occasional maximalist bursts are coupled with moments of ease where each instrument is given ample space to prove its worth, a matured approach to songwriting which shows a likeness to acts like Yo La Tengo and The Sea and Cake; an approach rarely emulated in bands these days.

Where some of Blue Bendy’s contemporaries have often felt the need to embellish their sound with lavish string and woodwind arrangements to flex their jazz-trained credentials, the six members are acutely aware that what they can do by themselves is more than enough to be captivating.

Both synth player Olivia Morgan and guitarist Harrison Charles squeeze out more than enough otherworldly sound to be marvelled at, while Charles’ playing very naturally bounces off the other guitar of Joe Nash to create a delightful interplay. This leaves bassist Oliver Nolan and drummer Oscar Tebbutt to fill in the gaps with understated yet brilliant rhythmic touches.

The opener, which shares its name with the album, is a standout example of how Blue Bendy write in a way that ducks and dives between different styles, emotions and dynamic shifts. A longtime staple of the band’s live set, it feels like the perfect introduction to the tapestry the album weaves, with a refreshing sense of clarity being placed on Nolan’s vocals that flit between irony and earnestness.

For every moment where it feels as though the curtain is being lowered with a heartfelt sentiment, a Lincolnshire crooner will “set fire to [his] underpants” to mirror how the instrumentation keeps up with a mixture of tenderness, catharsis and playfulness.

Nolan’s narration across the record could well be drawn from personal experiences, and the constant self-reference (and references to other band members) by name suggest that he’s retelling true stories, albeit abstracted to a point where the versions we’re hearing are unreliable and crammed with non-sequiturs.

There are some discernible themes to be grasped at throughout the record – loneliness and romantic anguish can be noticed from time to time – but what holds the album together is how some of these themes recur, especially in penultimate epic ‘Cloudy’, where both lyrics and musical motifs pop up again to establish a coherent arc to the entire record. Mentions of driving, bubblegum, being in Spain and a character named John Superman can be found elsewhere, and the intro to the song later returns at the tail end of closer ‘Goodnight Bobby’ in a way that brings a sense of closure to not just the record, but the anguish that Nolan is conveys in his oblique musings.

At risk of pushing the analysis a step too far, the accompanying visuals provided for the singles and the album artwork itself seem to hold the best representation of all the feelings and moods on display on So Medieval. The suits of armour donned by the band in the video for the title track are as impenetrable as the themes, while the confusing and immovable obelisk (refrigerator) present in ‘Come On Baby, Dig’ feels like a great allegory for the band’s ethos. 

At the end of it all, the feet floating above the clouds pictured on the cover are how the experience of the album feels – intangible and transcendent of the world we’re experiencing this in. You don’t get many more remarkably ambitious debuts than this, and the listening experience is one that will hopefully be cherished for many years after.

To quote ‘Mr Bubblegum’, Blue Bendy are “on the precipice of something great”, and to quote ‘Cloudy’, “this is the end, ten out of ten”.

featured image: Trinity Ace


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