Philadelphia, 11:47 AM: The members of Harper Blynn find themselves in an unusual situation. Standing on the sidewalk outside the Philadelphia Academy of Music, they watch as a cadre of beefy union guys unload the band’s equipment out of the Dodge Sprinter van they call home for most of the year. As their gear rolls into the venue without them, the members sip coffee, provide a running commentary on lunchtime passersby while taking in the grandeur of the building in which they will be performing that night. After logging over 150 shows since the release of an eponymously titled EP in 2010, Harper Blynn welcome the break. Buzzing from the news of being handpicked by indie queen Ingrid Michaelson to open up a healthy chunk of dates on her spring tour, the band has spent the previous two weeks doing a run of shows up and down the East Coast while approving the latest mixes of their new full-length, Busy Hands. A unit accustomed to the rigors of managing, booking, financing and transporting themselves, Harper Blynn might finally be on the verge of graduating from the DIY lifestyle.
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Busy Hands is a worthy chronicle of the transition. Co-produced with Irish wunderkind John O’Mahony (Metric, Coldplay), the album effectively captures the sensation of hurtling towards a precipice of sorts, that fantastic moment when feet leave the ground and wings take over for the first time. Songwriters J.Blynn (vocals/ guitar) and Pete Harper (vocals/keyboards) accurately portray the limitations of long- distance relationships (“In Another Life”), infatuation and lust (“Falling In Love”), betrayal (“Knife”) and bleary-eyed existential crisis (“High End Melody”). That said, Harper and Blynn never wallow in their sorrows; these songs are about finding a way out. Bassist Whynot Jansveld and drummer Sarab Singh inject these songs with an immediacy that grounds their songwriters’ soaring melodies and stylistic eccentricities. Jansveld and Singh have also played a major part in providing the band with a time-tested outlet for exposure: backing up other artists. Like The Band before them, Harper Blynn has toured as a back-up outfit for an eclectic roster of independent artists such as David Mead, Elizabeth and the Catapult, The Damnwells, Cary Brothers and Greg Laswell. The band’s off-the-charts vocal abilities and instrumental prowess have made them into a unit capable of propelling these artists’ shows to dizzying heights.
The band happily agrees that this experience has had a major effect on the dynamic of their own performances. It is not surprising to find out that the most often asked question after a Harper Blynn gig is, “How do you guys make all of that noise?” In an era in which bands can often be heard playing along to pre-recorded tracks, Harper Blynn manages to create a jaw-dropping wall of sound onstage with no artificial assistance whatsoever. Singh’s polyrhythmic style often achieves the effect of three drummers playing at once, while Jansveld manages to generate multiple octaves from his instrument, sometimes tricking the audience into thinking an extra player must be hidden offstage. The interplay between Harper’s keyboard melodies and Blynn’s guitar soundscapes is reminiscent of Death Cab For Cutie, and the pristine wash of three-part harmonies that floats through much of the music recalls Grizzly Bear at its best, or perhaps a disembodied choir hovering in the ether above a very large performance hall.