Rose Blossom Punch – Ephemere

It kind of figures that one of my favorite albums of all time is one that nobody has heard of or will ever hear of very often. It’s not totally that I’m a fan of obscurity, at the time I thought Aaron Sprinkle’s first of many post-Poor Old Lu projects would be something that SOMEONE out there would be savvy on, oh the frivolities of youth!

What is a Rose Blossom Punch? What’s an Ephemere? The answers to this and so much more won’t be answered tonight as we explore this fine album:

Art work by Aaron's wife, how supportive!I guess I like this album because it came at the right time and was more or less the sound I was wanting. See, the lead singer/lead guitarist in this group is Aaron Sprinkle, former guitarist of Poor Old Lu, of whom I have written about a few times now. Compared to Lu’s “final” album (at the time), which is called A Picture Of The Eighth Wonder and I will definitely be writing about at a later time, Aaron decided to tackle a similarly dark but edgier sound. I say “edgier” not because it’s got more bad-itude, but the guitars are a lot more disgustingly drenched in distortion, the drums quite straight-forward and, at times, very splashy on cymbals, and the vocals…

Well, this is Aaron’s lead-vocal debut, of sorts. He sang lead on one Poor Old Lu song, on Sin, but had never taken the driver’s seat entirely as far as being the singer/songwriter of the group, preferring to leave that lofty position to Scott Hunter for the duration of Lu. For this project, he brought along Poor Old Lu bassist Nick Barber and added in a different drummer (Paul Mumaw) and a second guitarist (Terry Coggins). I’m not sure Aaron had quite found his comfort zone with Rose Blossom Punch, but instead of that being a bad thing, it adds the first element of uniqueness to this band’s sound. The second element are the words and music he wrote, some of it is spot-on and remarkable, other times it’s just kind of weird, but still remarkable in its own way.

The first song, “Cyclone Fence“, one of my favorite opening songs of any album, has a very recognizable chord structure, built tall on the solid foundation of E minor. The chords start off way in the background, being pounded so hard the top note kind of goes off-key but with all the dynamics dropped out, which gives it a great effect. Then, the drums are added in through a phase shifter so you just don’t know what’s going on, then the whole thing builds up into the quite loud and excellent pounding rock sound proper, where simple lines of guitar melody are layered on top of that solid chord progression. Then Aaron’s voice comes in, a soft and high-pitched tenor that seems like it has no place in rock, but in fact is carefully placed to give the song a very haunting feeling. That’s the “unique” element I suppose, in Aaron’s singing. Sometime around his debut solo album he figured out how to really belt out some high notes, and that really kind of gave him his own sound, but the vocals for Rose Blossom Punch are kind of ethereal and weak on delivery. I’d have it no other way, of course, it gives the songs that certain effect that I feel is very beneficial to them.

The effect is lessened, somewhat, in the next song, “Haunted Church”, which has a very fussy array of chord changes all built around a kind of “inverted” blues hook. The lead solo is played almost a semi-tone higher than the actual key, so it has a very disconcerted feel to it, which is something my dad once told me was invented by George Harrison, but he said that about a lot of things. It’s a strange song, to be sure, but not “bad” in any way. The lyrics are pretty interesting:

You think you know everything about me
And I could tell you now everything I’m thinking
And I promise you that you wouldn’t know a word

To think you didn’t see
You were all alone next to me

Taking folding chairs up to the cathedral
Lying on the floor in a haunted church
Whining to the score, that I couldn’t leave you more

But if I fell in to the sea
You’d still be all alone, next to me

I’m not going to lie, this album is marketed as a “Christian” album but I’m have a lot of trouble piecing it together. Most of the songs are centered around strange relationships and metaphors, some of which are vaguely religious, but I’m pretty sure this is pretty much a standard rock album as far as that goes.

The next song, “Confused”, is a waltzy kind of song, in 3/4 time, utilizing a guitar part that is kind of different in a way that I wish I knew more about music so I wouldn’t have to be so vague about, except to say that the chorus has an amazingly chunky distortion attached to it, so much so that it might bother some listeners, particularly given that the song is kind of delicate and pretty otherwise.

The next song, however, brings us back to that familiar E minor territory with the oppressive and depressive “If I Were Dead”, which is about as dire as you get, I suppose. The subject, again, is complex personal relationships, this one being particularly volatile:

And all the times you said
You’d be better off, if I were dead
You know you could have walked away
Could have walked away

The chorus is punctuated by a quite cool guitar melody being played through either a fast phase shifter or a flanger, I can’t ever tell. This song is oh-so dark and wonderful, with a kind of hopelessness that one might like to get lost in occasionally, if only for the duration of the song.

However, one must not stay in the hopeless bleak despair for too long, so the next song, “Windswept” has a more optimistic vibe. On top of being in a less oppressive key, it’s more upbeat in general, and in fact is kind of the last stop in pop-song town before the album gets really bleak, so you’d better enjoy the backwards-tracked guitar solos and strange chord progressions in this song while you can!

The next song, “Beauty”, is lyrically one of the more straightforward songs about depression, and the chords certainly match. It’s lead by the acoustic guitar and is backed up by a female singer whose name escapes me at the moment. The words are:

Beauty unbounded lies in your mind
Shines in your face, and speaks through your eyes
Sour still, the memory of past words and fears
Clouds thick the joy and happier years

Sorrow unmeasured runs through your frame
Pulling you down and taking your strength

Stars in your eyes and dreams in your heart
Are almost in reach, yet a little too far

Fun stuff, eh? The next song is even more fun, with one of the bleakest vocal and guitar melodies I’ve heard so far, at least until the chorus. This song, called “Fall To Place“, has some pretty out-there lyrics, so I’m not even sure what’s supposed to be going on in this song. It might be about love, about hate, about everything in between, but someone gets married in it so I guess it’s all right, yes?

We finally move away from the more dour parts of the album and step into a bit more of an epic, introspective feel, starting with Nick Barber’s singing debut, “First Time In Vermont”. The lyrics, again, too vague to really remark upon, but the significance of this song is that it’s the bassist singing lead and playing the guitar, and both are actually pretty good! Aaron I believe delegated himself the Rhodes organ (which is always a pleasant instrument) and Terry Coggins moved to bass. It used to be one of my favorite songs on the album, but you know after listening to this album for as many years as I have (nearly 12 years now), I don’t have any favorites anymore, just the whole thing.

Speaking of which, the next song keeps the mysterious minor-y chords moving with “A Step Into The Dark”, which is quite a good song and is perhaps the only one that I would qualify as a “Christian” song, just in a slightly vague way. Aside from that, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in this song. For one, Aaron’s voice is considerably more powerful and placed in the front of the mix, the drums are mostly played on the toms to give it that kind of marching feel, and I can’t even tell you what’s going on with the bass, playing all kinds of melodies and such. It’s a good song but overshadowed perhaps by the final number.

Ah, “Par Avion”, a song about being angry and hopeless and such but set to one of the coolest chord progressions on the album, so cool in fact that I have no idea what’s actually going on. As I understand, there was some electronic fumbling about perhaps to get the exact sound they did, but it works and I guess that’s the point. It has some interesting vocal interplay at the end, however, with one Aaron (or maybe Nick?) singing the slow part, and Aaron singing a faster part, the lyrics for the slower part being more optimistic, and the faster part being more negative.

All in all, the album has a sometimes dark but always mysterious sound to it. I’m not intentionally being vague with all these descriptions (which is why I’m glad this isn’t a “review” otherwise I would have failed so hard by now). It’s just such a unique sound that it’s hard to really pin it down to any kind of genre (though “post grunge” is Wikipedia’s choice because the band is from Washington State). Hopefully you’ll find some way to listen to it for yourself, because it’s a pretty good album by a band that really should have stuck with it for a little longer than they did, in my opinion. They released this album, started working on another, and then shelved it, only to release it with a breakup letter in 2000 under the name “Sorry To Disappoint You”. Since then, Aaron started his solo career and then another band with Nick Barber, so all is well, but I do rather miss the Rose Blossom Punch sound.

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One Response

  1. […] as I’ve said before, 1997 was a VERY good year for Christian music. While most of my favorite albums that came out that year have been long forgotten, it was a great year for original music that […]

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