When Dylan Dickerson and Marc Coty, then the lone full-time members of Columbia’s Dear Blanca, first ventured to Charlotte to record with Bo White, they were nervous and a bit overwhelmed. White was a college friend of Dickerson’s older brother, and the young singer and guitarist had long admired Yardwork, the exuberantly aggressive pop-rock band with which White spent a few years building up a small but loyal following around the Southeast. The elder musician had agreed to track the fresh-faced duo for free in his home studio, and they were wary of abusing
“I didn’t know him that well,” Dickerson explains, sitting beside bassist Cameron Powell, the most recent addition to Dear Blanca’s current quartet. “So I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s recording our record for free. We’ve got to be no frills, record this as quickly as possible, make it, like, no stress on this guy.’”
But it turned out that frills were what suited White best. As he approached the sessions for what would become Talker, Dear Blanca’s fraught and forthright 2013 debut, he was in the middle of his own project, a concept album exploring the impact of drug cartels in Latin America. Cobbling together a piecemeal studio orchestra over the course of a year, he released his savvy and sweeping Same Deal, New Patrones in 2012. Already in that headspace, he decked Dear Blanca’s simmering indie rock with billowing horn charts and spacious keys, lending widescreen scope to Dickerson’s gruffly bellowed odes.
What: Bo White Y Su Orquesta
With: Banditos, Stagbriar, Shallow Palace
Where: Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St.
When: Friday, Aug. 1, 7 p.m.
Price: $8 ($5 members)
More Info: columbiamuseum.org
Having sparked a friendship and a fruitful collaboration, White and Dear Blanca returned to the well late last year, recording songs for Pobrecito, the sophomore album that the band released earlier this week. The new outing follows quick on the heels of Millennial Tombs, White’s third album in as many years, and while their latest efforts are definitely distinct, they also reinforce the bond between these talented artists.
When White and Dickerson first started working together, their songwriting styles contrasted starkly. Much of the material on Dear Blanca’s Talker is profoundly personal. Three of the songs deal directly with deaths in Dickerson’s family. White’s songs, while reliably passionate, usually detail narratives removed from his own experience.
2013’s lush and percolating Adornment followed this pattern. “Sly Dutch Youth Musics,” perhaps the best song of the bunch, slyly slams those who interlope in scenes they don’t understand, leaning on broad but detailed dissections of hipster stereotypes — “There’s nothing quite like blood on the guitar,” White offers, his comfortably piercing warble twisted by an audible sneer.
But life stalled White’s momentum earlier this year. He took ill, and while he declines to discuss the specifics of his condition, he ended up in the hospital, remaining with the intensive care unit for 19 days. “It was kind of a life-or-death situation at certain points,” he admits. Though only two songs reference this experience explicitly, Millennial Tombs, tracked quickly after his recovery, finds him working with increased urgency.
“I just kind of wanted to jump right back into things and started writing these songs,” White says. “If I got any kind of random idea, I didn’t want to shelve anything. So if a song ended up sounding a certain way, I just rolled with it. And then I got to the end of the album, and I had these random 11 songs and I just came up with the order.”
The new album is darker and more insular than Adornment. With his favorite microphone on the fritz, White opted for a starker, less sunny feel than he typically prefers, an aesthetic that lines up well with these songs, many of which are among the singer’s most personal. “Patient” contends with his sickness, driven by a morose bass line and eerie strings and keys as White recalls his darker moments: “I’ve been taking every pill they bring,” he murmurs. “I’ve been wondering if I’ll ever sing again.”
What: Dear Blanca
With: Junior Astronomers, The Howling Man, Keath Mead
Where: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When: Saturday, Aug. 2, 8 p.m.
More Info: newbrooklandtavern.com
His restlessness following his illness results in some thrilling sonic detours, but even the record’s more whimsical moments come tinged with bleak thoughts. “Matinee” surges through lo-fi Pet Sounds splendor, its playful guitars and synthesizers frolicking with elegant glockenspiel and triumphant rhythms. But White’s jubilant chorus rings sarcastic, his tale of a drunk who performs private monologues proving far more damning than hopeful. “Then you go acting out in Sailor’s Park / Thinking no one sees you in the dark,” he sings. “Well they can, what’s more, they’re taking notes / Of all the missteps.”
But while Millennial Tombs drifts from White’s established approach, it’s the singer’s typically meticulous and detached songcraft that influences Dear Blanca’s latest batch. Having plumbed his personal life for Talker, a record that collected writings from as far back as high school, Dickerson strove to diversify his inspirations, mustering intimate emotions to bolster broad-stroke anthems and accessible ballads, making Pobrecito far more populist than its self-centered predecessor.
The powerful opener “Boulders” establishes the new record’s less adorned sonics, giving the combustible quartet — Dickerson, Coty, Powell and Dayne Lee, who contributes auxiliary percussion and luxurious backing vocals — room to spark and smoulder. That first song speaks in general but poetic terms about small-town malaise, keeping its emotions specific and its narrative vague, allowing listeners to insert their own experiences. “Come on, give up, and settle down,” Dickerson rumbles before his acoustic strums are overtaken by a bitter-sweet swell of drums and electric guitar, “Every stone is a boulder / Digging out graves in your hometown / Is just a part of getting older.”
Even when Pobrecito relies on Dickerson’s individual experience, it deals with circumstances that are relatable to almost anyone. “Huff,” for instance, invokes the French bulldog once owned by him and Lee, his girlfriend as well as his bandmate. The puppy passed away when it was about a month old, and Dickerson pays surprisingly poignant tribute. As ragged riffs send the song spiraling towards catharsis, the singer cries again and again, “I only want to hold you!”
“I’ve always envied [Bo’s] ability to really separate himself,” Dickerson offers. “The more I’ve tried to do that, I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s not bad to write personal songs.’ If I have a personal song to write, I’m going to write it, but I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. I know I can do that, so I want to try something where I’m not sure if I can.”
Ever supportive, White backs off with his production and arrangement, allowing the blossoming Dear Blanca room to stand on its own merits. A couple of songs come garnished by slight but vital injections of organ and lap steel, and the musical saw on the patiently striding “Noma” is a particularly nice touch. Once again, he gave the band exactly what it needed at the time, a testament to their intrinsic chemistry.
“I just enjoy what they’re doing,” White says. “I feel like it’s easy for me to step in and kind of shape it. I think if I was in Columbia, I might be playing in the band, you know? We just vibe pretty well.”
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