IAN BLURTON'S FUTURE NOW - SECOND SKIN
In the three years that have elapsed since Canadian rocker Ian Blurton released his proper solo debut, 2019's Signals Through the Flames, the busy-body producer/musician has recorded not one but two follow-up albums with his Future Now band, as well as producing three albums for Canadian songwriter Jeen. Clearly the pandemic has not slowed this man down, and while 2020 and 2021 saw the release of two of the three Jeen albums, it's been a hell of a wait for the hotly anticipated Second Skin, the logical follow-up to Signals Through the Flames. The key distinction between these two albums is that while Signals Through the Flames was recorded as a solo effort featuring contributions from half a dozen drummers, percussionists, and bass players from across the Canadian independent rock community, Second Skin was recorded entirely with Future Now, the band that was assembled to bring Signals Through the Flames to life on the road in the live domain, where Blurton's technical guitar prowess truly shines. Featuring Blue Rodeo's Glenn Milchem on drums, Espanola's Aaron Goldstein on second guitar, and touring/session bassist Anna Ruddick (notably of City and Colour fame), these three musicians working alongside Blurton have successfully delivered the most consistent hard rock record to date in Blurton's lengthy discography.
Opening with lead-off single "Like a Ghost," the tone of the album is established immediately with Blurton's signature riffs and Milchem/Ruddick's pummeling rhythm section that hits harder than any Blue Rodeo record ever has, and lyrically draws from the deep well of Greek mythology, inspired by Poseidon an poltergeists in equal measure. However, it isn't until title-track "Second Skin" that the true scale of the album is revealed: clocking in at just over seven minutes and reappearing as the album's closing bookend via "Second Skin Reprise", this is a classic Blurton epic in the tradition of "Fortress of the Night" and "The Mountain". The arrangements are complex and every player is given room to breathe and showcase their unique contributions within Future Now: case and point, the breakdown in the song's midsection where Ruddick lays down some of the most ominous, distortion-laden bass riffs heard since the early days of Death From Above 1979, while Milchem fires off scattershot hits and fills that pull the listener into what can best be described as the frontlines of war or an active shoot-out.
The A-side of the album is rounded out by "The Power of No", "When the Storm Comes Home", and "Orchestrated Illusions", the last of which brings Blurton into the most prog-rock territory he has ever dabbled in. The song is driven by Milchem's seismic drumming and Blurton and Goldstein's stacked guitar harmonies, a sonic trick that these two masterful guitarists employ throughout the album to great effect (indeed, in many cases it becomes impossible to discern where Blurton's playing ends and where Goldestein's begins).
The B-side kicks off with soon-to-be Canadian rock-radio staple "Denim on Denim" (a hilarious nod to the Canadian Tuxedo that Blurton has been permanently living, breathing, and sleeping in since his days in Blurtonia, complete with lyrics: "Denim on denim, it's like heaven on heaven.") The other major standout in the album's back end is "Too High the Sky," which opens with some of the most serene acoustic guitar work to be found in Blurton's body of work. This song also features a rare guest performer, Sean Beresford on additional guitar. The interplay between Blurton, Goldstein, and Beresford is a thing of beauty, and gives the song layers of depth and texture not always heard on earlier Blurton outings.
Finally, the album closes with the magnificent "Trails to the Gate/Second Skin Reprise", the logical album closer for what is not exactly a concept album, but an album that definitely has a consistent narrative theme running throughout it's reanimated skeletal corpse (not unlike the myriad of electrified skeletal incarnations of the band members featured on the album's stunning cover art). Opening with what can best be described as a tastefully executed stacked Blurton accapella vocal harmony that has (potentially) been auto-tuned, the song proceeds to rip into another six-and-a-half minutes of classic rock riffage that finally concludes with the album's refrain: "It's just a second skin." With two of the best albums of his career in the can and a third actively in the works, it's safe to say: "Bring on the Third Skin!"