While the vast majority of the music world occupies itself with chasing the ever-elusive trends of the moment, often at the expense of substance, Chicago's Terry Blade bucks the fads and crafts authentic and meaningful songs of truth that defy genre classification. Blade’s new EP Misery, released May 8th, 2020, clearly demonstrates this fact, digging deep into spaces that other artists avoid – mental illness, queerness, loneliness, and intersectionality. This is heady material that could land with a thud when in less nuanced hands, but Blade doesn’t shy away from territory that other songwriters would deem too ugly to write about and we the listeners benefit from this fearlessness. Intimate and introspective, the lyrics play like a beautifully crafted diary of darkness.
Typically, I highlight standout tracks of an EP, but to not address each song would do a disservice to a piece of music that hangs together as a whole, unified work. So, I will address each song.
The record opens with The Unlovable – A sweet acoustic guitar groove that at first seems to suggest that this Misery will fit cleanly in the jazz influenced singer songwriter slot. Then the voice comes in and immediately suggests a likeness to Tracy Chapman or Meshell Ndegeocello on her Bitter album – but with a huskier backbone. Blade croons about the ultimate loneliness – the worry that you are too damaged to be loved. He sings in the chorus:
Tell me who’s gonna love me like this
A soul in constant crisis
Blade keeps the production simple here – acoustic guitar and his signature baritone fill the space – but anything more would be clutter; the emotions and songwriting are the centerpieces.
We switch gears for the second tune The Mentally Ill.Melancholy bells and muted keyboards fancy up the production and provide a beautiful and slightly demented R&B landscape that plays in contrast to the weight of the story being told.
The Widow (featured below) introduces piano and dreamy Motown Ooooohs into the soundscape and poetically unpacks the grief of losing a spouse – another side of loneliness for Blade to explore. He sings:
I’m not a weeping willow
Just a grieving widow
Who has lost her superhero
These lyrics on paper are quite moving; but, when sung in Blade’s bewitching baritone, they punch you in the gut in the best way.
The Broken returns to the straightforward acoustic guitar production model that allows the songwriting to really shine on a track that feels instantly familiar while playing with clever rhythms and string slaps.
The Other Side has an early Ani Difranco vibe in the guitar and perhaps offers a glimmer of hope both sonically and lyrically as the singer banishes toxic family, friends, and lovers in order to keep himself safe and, hopefully, on the path to health.
Keep me at bay
Increase the distance
But don’t delay
You and I will just collide
Sleight of hand and tricks you’ve tried
I can’t be near where you reside
Standing on the other side
The EP closes with its most intriguing offering production-wise. Tick Tock (The Lonely) boasts distant 80s-style drums drenched in reverb, muted organs, and eerie synths giving us a hint of what a full-length album from Blade could potentially promise. It’s exciting to think of where Blade could head next sonically and genre-wise.
The anchor of this 6-song collection is Blade’s voice, a deep and creamy velvet baritone that demands your attention the moment he opens his mouth. Without the aid of effects or cluttered production, Terry Blade uses his new EP Misery as a vehicle to forge a winding path through musical genres that ends in a destination that’s all his own. The EP plays like a high-concept one-man show, the journey of which is best digested as a united whole.